Immunotoxicology: Challenges in the 21st century and in vitro opportunities

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Thomas Hartung , Emanuela Corsini
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Over the last two decades, little has changed in the practice of immunotoxicity testing for regulatory purposes, especially for immunosuppression, and autoimmunity is still a challenge. Current guidelines still rely on animal tests, which include some immune endpoints in repeated dose tests and trigger dedicated tests only when certain alerts indicate a problem. At the same time, however, a wealth of in vitro approaches has been developed, but few have been adopted for routine testing. The extent to which immunotoxicity of chemicals represents a health problem for the human population at low levels of exposure is unclear: it appears that responses of healthy individuals to immunological challenges differ widely and most immunomodulators have few adverse effects except when they coincide with an infectious or malignant challenge or when early in life exposure is expected, in which cases the odds of progressing into infection, autoimmune diseases, or cancer can be changed. The enormous overcapacity of immune defense, the presence of compensatory mechanisms, and their fast restoration each contribute to limiting health threats for the individual, though on a population base also minor immunomodulation may result in increased morbidity. In vitro alternative approaches may allow screening for problematic substances and prioritize them for in vivo testing. New approaches are emerging from mapping pathways of immunotoxicity. Increasingly, the contribution of inflammatory and infectious components to the adverse outcome pathways of chemicals is recognized for various hazards, urging inclusion of tests for proinflammatory and immunomodulatory properties of chemicals into integrated testing strategies.

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Hartung, T. and Corsini, E. (2013) “Immunotoxicology: Challenges in the 21st century and in vitro opportunities”, ALTEX - Alternatives to animal experimentation, 30(4), pp. 411–426. doi: 10.14573/altex.2013.4.411.
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