Evaluation of 147 perfluoroalkyl substances for immunotoxic and other (patho)physiological activities through phenotypic screening of human primary cells

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Keith A. Houck
Katie Paul Friedman
Madison Feshuk
Grace Patlewicz
Marci Smeltz
M. Scott Clifton
Barbara A. Wetmore
Sharlene Velichko
Antal Berenyi
Ellen L. Berg


A structurally diverse set of 147 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were screened in a panel of 12 human primary cell systems, measuring 148 biomarkers relevant to (patho)physiological pathways to inform hypotheses about potential mechanistic effects of data-poor PFAS in human model systems. This analysis focused on immunosuppressive activity, which was previously reported as an in vivo effect of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), by comparing PFAS responses to four pharmacological immunosuppressants. The PFOS response profile had little correlation with reference immunosuppressants, suggesting in vivo activity does not occur by similar mechanisms. The PFOA response profile did share features with the profile of dexamethasone although some distinct features were lacking. Other PFAS, including 2,2,3,3-tetrafluoropropyl acrylate, demonstrated more similarity to the reference immunosuppressants but with additional activities not found in the reference immunosuppressive drugs. Correlation of PFAS profiles with a database of environmental chemical responses and pharmacological probes identified potential mechanisms of bioactivity for some PFAS, including responses similar to ubiquitin ligase inhibitors, deubiquitylating enzyme (DUB) inhibitors, and thioredoxin reductase inhibitors. Approximately 21% of the 147 PFAS with confirmed sample quality were bioactive at nominal testing concentrations in the 1-60 micromolar range in these human primary cell systems. These data provide new hypotheses for mechanisms of action for a subset of PFAS and may further aid in development of a PFAS categorization strategy useful in safety assessment.

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Houck, K., Paul Friedman, K., Feshuk, M., Patlewicz, G., Smeltz, M., Clifton, M. S., Wetmore, B. A., Velichko, S., Berenyi, A. and Berg, E. L. (2022) “Evaluation of 147 perfluoroalkyl substances for immunotoxic and other (patho)physiological activities through phenotypic screening of human primary cells”, ALTEX - Alternatives to animal experimentation. doi: 10.14573/altex.2203041.

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