Prediction of embryotoxic effects of valproic acid-derivatives with molecular in vitro methods LINZ 2000

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Alfonso Lampen
Martin Göttlicher
Heinz Nau


Therapy with the antiepileptic drug valproic acid (2-propylpentanoic acid, VPA) during early pregnancy can cause similar teratogenic effects (neural tube defects) in human and mice. In this study a new molecular bioassay is presented using following endpoints: differentiation of F9 teratocarcinoma cells, altered cell morphology, induction of possible targed genes, and the induction of viral RSV-promoter. The induction of a transiently transfected viral (RSV) promoter driven luciferase gene by VPA was used to screen a set of VPA-derivatives. Structure-activity investigations showed: the longer the aliphatic side chain the more the induction of the RSV-reporter gene. The specific induction was stereoseletive. The teratogenic enantiomer S-4-yn-VPA (2-propyl-4-pentynoic acid) induced the RSV-driven reporter gene while the non teratogenic R-4-yn-VPA does not. Heptyl-4-yn-VPA was the most potent teratogen in vitro and in vivo. Non teratogenic VPA-derivatives like R-4-yn-VPA and 2-en-VPA (2-propyl-2-pentenoic acid) were ineffective in this system. Thus, the teratogenic effect of VPA and VPA-derivatives in the mouse correlated with the specific induction of the viral RSV-promoter controlled reporter in F9-cells. Acid compounds such as fatty acids are known to interact with peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs). To test structure-acitivity relationships by VPA or its derivatives we used CHO cells stably expressing hybrid proteins of the ligand-binding domain of either of the PPARs. The teratogen VPA and the teratogenic derivatives of VPA activated the PPAR-d construct in a very specific structure- and stereoselective way which correlated well with the activities in the reporter gene assay (bioassay) and those in vivo. No such correlation was found with respect to activation of PPAR-a or PPAR-g. These structure-activity relationships indicate that PPAR-d may be a potential mediator of VPA-induced differentiation of F9 cells and may possibly be involved in the mechanism of teratogenicity of VPA in vivo. Furthermore two bioassays were designed with clearly defined endoints, amenable to automation and screening of great number of compounds. The test system allows to replace animal experiments in the preclinical development of new antiepileptics drugs with reduced teratogenic risk. Supported by BgVV-ZEBET (Berlin).

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Lampen, A., Göttlicher, M. and Nau, H. (2001) “Prediction of embryotoxic effects of valproic acid-derivatives with molecular in vitro methods: LINZ 2000”, ALTEX - Alternatives to animal experimentation, 18(2), pp. 123–126. Available at: (Accessed: 18 August 2022).