Robert D. Combes
Legislation in the USA, Europe and Japan will require that chemicals are tested for their ability to disrupt the hormonal systems of mammals. Such chemicals are known as endocrine disruptors (EDs), and will require extensive testing as part of the new European Union Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) system for the risk assessment of chemicals. Both in vivo and in vitro tests are proposed for this purpose, and there has been much discussion and action concerning the development and validation of such tests. However, to date, little interest has been shown in incorporating metabolism into in vitro tests for EDs, in sharp contrast to other areas of toxicity testing, such as genotoxicity, and, ironically, such in vitro tests are criticised for not modelling in vivo metabolism. This is despite the existence of much information showing that endogenous and exogenous steroids are extensively metabolised by Phase I and Phase II enzymes both in the liver and in hormonally active tissues. Such metabolism can lead to the activation or detoxification of steroids and EDs. The absence of metabolism from these tests could give rise to false-positive data (due to lack of detoxification) or false-negative data (lack of activation). This paper aims to explain why in vitro assays for EDs should incorporate mammalian metabolising systems. The background to ED testing, the test methods available, and the role of mammalian metabolism in the activation and detoxification of both endogenous and exogenous steroids, are described. The available types of metabolising systems are compared, and the potential problems in incorporating metabolising systems into in vitro tests for EDs, and how these might be overcome, are discussed. It is recommended that there should be: a) an assessment of the intrinsic metabolising capacity of cell systems used in tests for EDs; b) an investigation into the relevance of using the prostaglandin H synthase system for metabolising EDs; and c) a feasibility study into the generation of genetically engineered mammalian cell lines expressing specific metabolising enzymes, which could also be used to detect EDs.
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