Data-driven derivation of an adverse outcome pathway linking vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR), endocrine disruption, and atherosclerosis

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Daniel Ehrlich, Shagun Krishna, Nicole Kleinstreuer
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Dysregulation of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) and its receptor (VEGFR) contributes to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease (CVD), making it a potential target for CVD risk assessment. High throughput screening (HTS) approaches have resulted in large-scale in vitro data, providing mechanistic information that can help assess chemical toxicity and identify molecular-initiating events (MIEs) of adverse outcome pathways (AOPs). AOPs represent a logical sequence of biological responses contributing to toxicity and are valuable tools to inform chemical risk assessments. Here, we used HTS data to formulate an AOP relating VEGF signaling perturbation to atherosclerosis. ToxCast, Tox21, and PubChem data were evaluated to obtain bio-profiles of 4165 compounds active in assays targeting VEGFR. Cheminformatics analysis identified 109 enriched structural fingerprints. Applying a subspace clustering approach based on chemical structure bioactivity yielded 12 primary targets, whose relevance to CVD was confirmed by an AI-assisted literature review. An AOP was hypothesized by coupling mechanistic relationships highlighted by HTS data with literature review findings, linking Serotonin Receptor (HTR), Estrogen Receptor Alpha (ERα), and Vasopressin Receptor (AVPR) targets with VEGFR activity, angiogenic signaling, and atherosclerosis. Several endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), e.g., bisphenols, triclosan, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were identified as relevant chemical stressors. Subspace clustering of these chemicals evaluated potential MIEs and highlighted associations with use-case classes. By applying computational methods to profile HTS data and hypothesize a mechanistic AOP, this study proposes a data-driven approach to evaluating environmental cardiotoxicity, which could eventually supplement and reduce the need for animal testing in toxicological assessments.

Plain language summary
This study explores how disruptions in VEGFR contribute to atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaques in arteries that can lead to CVD. By analyzing data from HTS relevant to CV health, researchers identify how different chemicals affect VEGFR and potentially cause CVD. Using these screening methods, which quickly test many chemicals, the study identifies specific biological changes leading to adverse health outcomes. This research aims to develop methods to assess chemical toxicity without relying on animal testing, making it relevant to human health. The findings link certain chemicals e.g., bisphenols and DDT, changing VEGRF activity and the development of atherosclerosis. An adverse outcome pathway (AOP) framework maps the sequence of biological events from molecular perturbations to disease, providing mechanistic insight and identifying chemicals impacting the AOP targets. This approach helps understand the risks posed by environmental chemicals and protects public health while reducing animal experiments.

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Ehrlich, D., Krishna, S. and Kleinstreuer, N. (2024) “Data-driven derivation of an adverse outcome pathway linking vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR), endocrine disruption, and atherosclerosis”, ALTEX - Alternatives to animal experimentation. doi: 10.14573/altex.2403211.

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