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Journal: Archives of toxicology


Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide worldwide. It is a broad spectrum herbicide and its agricultural uses increased considerably after the development of glyphosate-resistant genetically modified (GM) varieties. Since glyphosate was introduced in 1974, all regulatory assessments have established that glyphosate has low hazard potential to mammals, however, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded in March 2015 that it is probably carcinogenic. The IARC conclusion was not confirmed by the EU assessment or the recent joint WHO/FAO evaluation, both using additional evidence. Glyphosate is not the first topic of disagreement between IARC and regulatory evaluations, but has received greater attention. This review presents the scientific basis of the glyphosate health assessment conducted within the European Union (EU) renewal process, and explains the differences in the carcinogenicity assessment with IARC. Use of different data sets, particularly on long-term toxicity/carcinogenicity in rodents, could partially explain the divergent views; but methodological differences in the evaluation of the available evidence have been identified. The EU assessment did not identify a carcinogenicity hazard, revised the toxicological profile proposing new toxicological reference values, and conducted a risk assessment for some representatives uses. Two complementary exposure assessments, human-biomonitoring and food-residues-monitoring, suggests that actual exposure levels are below these reference values and do not represent a public concern.

Concepts: European Union, Evaluation, Europe, Estonia, European integration, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Legislature, Latvia


Organophosphorus nerve agents are the most toxic chemical warfare agents that are known to have been produced, stockpiled and weaponised. Their development, production, stockpiling and use are prohibited under the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention and, together with their precursors, are subject to strict controls and verification procedures. The detection and identification of biological markers of exposure to nerve agents are required for three main purposes: confirmation of exposure for forensic purposes in cases of alleged use; diagnosis to guide appropriate medical countermeasures in the event of an exposure; and occupational health monitoring of workers in defence laboratories and demilitarisation facilities. Biomarkers of nerve agents fall into two main groups, free metabolites and adducts to proteins. These are reviewed together with analytical methods for their identification. Examples are provided of applications in cases of human exposure.

Concepts: Sarin, Biological warfare, VX, Nerve agent, Sulfur mustard, Chemical Weapons Convention, Chemical warfare, Geneva Protocol


Irreversible inhibition of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) by organophosphates leads to many failures in living organism and ultimately in death. Organophosphorus compounds developed as nerve agents such as tabun, sarin, soman, VX and others belong to the most toxic chemical warfare agents and are one of the biggest threats to the modern civilization. Moreover, misuse of nerve agents together with organophosphorus pesticides (e.g. malathion, paraoxon, chlorpyrifos, etc.) which are annually implicated in millions of intoxications and hundreds of thousand deaths reminds us of insufficient protection against these compounds. Basic treatments for these intoxications are based on immediate administration of atropine and acetylcholinesterase reactivators which are currently represented by mono- or bis-pyridinium aldoximes. However, these antidotes are not sufficient to ensure 100 % treatment efficacy even they are administered immediately after intoxication, and in general, they possess several drawbacks. Herein, we have reviewed new efforts leading to the development of novel reactivators and proposition of new promising strategies to design novel and effective antidotes. Structure-activity relationships and biological activities of recently proposed acetylcholinesterase reactivators are discussed and summarized. Among further modifications of known oximes, the main attention has been paid to dual binding site ligands of AChE as the current mainstream strategy. We have also discussed new chemical entities as potential replacement of oxime functional group.

Concepts: Acetylcholine, Poison, Sarin, Organophosphate, VX, Nerve agent, Gerhard Schrader, Chemical warfare


In 2012, a controversial study on the long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and the glyphosate-tolerant genetically modified (GM) maize NK603 was published. The EC-funded G-TwYST research consortium tested the potential subchronic and chronic toxicity as well as the carcinogenicity of the glyphosate-resistant genetically modified maize NK603 by performing two 90-day feeding trials, one with GM maize inclusion rates of 11 and 33% and one with inclusion rates of up to 50%, as well as a 2-year feeding trial with inclusion rates of 11 and 33% in male and female Wistar Han RCC rats by taking into account OECD Guidelines for the testing of chemicals and EFSA recommendations on the safety testing of whole-food/feed in laboratory animals. In all three trials, the NK603 maize, untreated and treated once with Roundup during its cultivation, and the conventional counterpart were tested. Differences between each test group and the control group were evaluated. Equivalence was assessed by comparing the observed difference to differences between non-GM reference groups in previous studies. In case of significant differences, whether the effects were dose-related and/or accompanied by changes in related parameters including histopathological findings was evaluated. It is concluded that no adverse effects related to the feeding of the NK603 maize cultivated with or without Roundup for up to 2 years were observed. Based on the outcome of the subchronic and combined chronic toxicity/carcinogenicity studies, recommendations on the scientific justification and added value of long-term feeding trials in the GM plant risk assessment process are presented.


The increasing use of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) in consumer products and their potential to induce adverse lung effects following inhalation has lead to much interest in better understanding the hazard associated with these nanomaterials (NMs). While the current regulatory requirement for substances of concern, such as MWCNTs, in many jurisdictions is a 90-day rodent inhalation test, the monetary, ethical, and scientific concerns associated with this test led an international expert group to convene in Washington, DC, USA, to discuss alternative approaches to evaluate the inhalation toxicity of MWCNTs. Pulmonary fibrosis was identified as a key adverse outcome linked to MWCNT exposure, and recommendations were made on the design of an in vitro assay that is predictive of the fibrotic potential of MWCNTs. While fibrosis takes weeks or months to develop in vivo, an in vitro test system may more rapidly predict fibrogenic potential by monitoring pro-fibrotic mediators (e.g., cytokines and growth factors). Therefore, the workshop discussions focused on the necessary specifications related to the development and evaluation of such an in vitro system. Recommendations were made for designing a system using lung-relevant cells co-cultured at the air-liquid interface to assess the pro-fibrogenic potential of aerosolized MWCNTs, while considering human-relevant dosimetry and NM life cycle transformations. The workshop discussions provided the fundamental design components of an air-liquid interface in vitro test system that will be subsequently expanded to the development of an alternative testing strategy to predict pulmonary toxicity and to generate data that will enable effective risk assessment of NMs.

Concepts: Fibrosis, Evaluation, In vivo, Carbon, Assessment, In vitro, Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, Pulmonary fibrosis


Liver disease is an escalating global health issue. While liver transplantation is an effective mode of therapy, patient mortality has increased due to the shortage of donor organs. Developing renewable sources of human liver tissue is therefore attractive. Pluripotent stem cell-derived liver tissue represents a potential alternative to cadaver derived hepatocytes and whole organ transplant. At present, two-dimensional differentiation procedures deliver tissue lacking certain functions and long-term stability. Efforts to overcome these limiting factors have led to the building of three-dimensional (3D) cellular aggregates. Although enabling for the field, their widespread application is limited due to their reliance on variable biological components. Our studies focused on the development of 3D liver tissue under defined conditions. In vitro generated 3D tissues exhibited stable phenotype for over 1 year in culture, providing an attractive resource for long-term in vitro studies. Moreover, 3D derived tissue provided critical liver support in two animal models, including immunocompetent recipients. Therefore, we believe that our study provides stable human tissue to better model liver biology ‘in the dish’, and in the future may permit the support of compromised liver function in humans.


We conducted a systematic literature review to identify and critically evaluate studies of serious adverse health effects (SAHEs) in humans using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products. Serious adverse health effects refer to adverse events, leading to substantial disruption of the ability to conduct normal life functions. Strength of evidence evaluations and conclusions were also determined for the identified SAHEs. We evaluated 34 epidemiological studies and clinical trials, relating NRT use to cancer, reproduction/development, CVD, stroke and/or other SAHEs in patients, and four meta-analyses on effects in healthy populations. The overall evidence suffers from many limitations, the most significant being the short-term exposure (≤12 weeks) and follow-up to NRT product use in most of the studies, the common failure to account for changes in smoking behaviour following NRT use, and the sparse information on SAHEs by type of NRT product used. The only SAHE from NRT exposure we identified was an increase in respiratory congenital abnormalities reported in one study. Limited evidence indicated a lack of effect between NRT exposure and SAHEs for CVD and various reproduction/developmental endpoints. For cancer, stroke and other SAHEs, the evidence was inadequate to demonstrate any association with NRT use. Our conclusions agree with recent statements from authoritative bodies.

Concepts: Medicine, Health, Epidemiology, Clinical trial, Systematic review, Effectiveness, Tobacco smoking, Meta-analysis


Drug-induced liver injury (DILI) continues to be a major source of clinical attrition, precautionary warnings, and post-market withdrawal of drugs. Accordingly, there is a need for more predictive tools to assess hepatotoxicity risk in drug discovery. Three-dimensional (3D) spheroid hepatic cultures have emerged as promising tools to assess mechanisms of hepatotoxicity, as they demonstrate enhanced liver phenotype, metabolic activity, and stability in culture not attainable with conventional two-dimensional hepatic models. Increased sensitivity of these models to drug-induced cytotoxicity has been demonstrated with relatively small panels of hepatotoxicants. However, a comprehensive evaluation of these models is lacking. Here, the predictive value of 3D human liver microtissues (hLiMT) to identify known hepatotoxicants using a panel of 110 drugs with and without clinical DILI has been assessed in comparison to plated two-dimensional primary human hepatocytes (PHH). Compounds were treated long-term (14 days) in hLiMT and acutely (2 days) in PHH to assess drug-induced cytotoxicity over an 8-point concentration range to generate IC50 values. Regardless of comparing IC50 values or exposure-corrected margin of safety values, hLiMT demonstrated increased sensitivity in identifying known hepatotoxicants than PHH, while specificity was consistent across both assays. In addition, hLiMT out performed PHH in correctly classifying hepatotoxicants from different pharmacological classes of molecules. The hLiMT demonstrated sufficient capability to warrant exploratory liver injury biomarker investigation (miR-122, HMGB1, α-GST) in the cell-culture media. Taken together, this study represents the most comprehensive evaluation of 3D spheroid hepatic cultures up to now and supports their utility for hepatotoxicity risk assessment in drug discovery.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Evaluation, Drug, Liver, Glycogen, Assessment, Bile, Hepatocyte


Recent studies suggest that the anabolic effect of ecdysterone, a naturally occurring steroid hormone claimed to enhance physical performance, is mediated by estrogen receptor (ER) binding. In comparison with the prohibited anabolic agents (e.g., metandienone and others), ecdysterone revealed to be even more effective in a recent study performed in rats. However, scientific studies in humans are very rarely accessible. Thus, our project aimed at investigating the effects of ecdysterone-containing products on human sport exercise. A 10-week intervention study of strength training of young men (n = 46) was carried out. Different doses of ecdysterone-containing supplements have been administered during the study to evaluate the performance-enhancing effect. Analysis of blood and urine samples for ecdysterone and potential biomarkers of performance enhancement has been conducted. To ensure the specificity of the effects measured, a comprehensive screening for prohibited performance-enhancing substances was also carried out. Furthermore, the administered supplement has been tested for the absence of anabolic steroid contaminations prior to administration. Significantly higher increases in muscle mass were observed in those participants that were dosed with ecdysterone. The same hypertrophic effects were also detected in vitro in C2C12 myotubes. Even more relevant with respect to sports performance, significantly more pronounced increases in one-repetition bench press performance were observed. No increase in biomarkers for liver or kidney toxicity was noticed. These data underline the effectivity of an ecdysterone supplementation with respect to sports performance. Our results strongly suggest the inclusion of ecdysterone in the list of prohibited substances and methods in sports in class S1.2 “other anabolic agents”.


The COVID-19-inducing virus, SARS-CoV2, is likely to remain a threat to human health unless efficient drugs or vaccines become available. Given the extent of the current pandemic (people in over one hundred countries infected) and its disastrous effect on world economy (associated with limitations of human rights), speedy drug discovery is critical. In this situation, past investments into the development of new (animal-free) approach methods (NAM) for drug safety, efficacy, and quality evaluation can be leveraged. For this, we provide an overview of repurposing ideas to shortcut drug development times. Animal-based testing would be too lengthy, and it largely fails, when a pathogen is species-specific or if the desired drug is based on specific features of human biology. Fortunately, industry has already largely shifted to NAM, and some public funding programs have advanced the development of animal-free technologies. For instance, NAM can predict genotoxicity (a major aspect of carcinogenicity) within days, human antibodies targeting virus epitopes can be generated in molecular biology laboratories within weeks, and various human cell-based organoids are available to test virus infectivity and the biological processes controlling them. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has formed an expert group to pave the way for the use of such approaches for accelerated drug development. This situation illustrates the importance of diversification in drug discovery strategies and clearly shows the shortcomings of an approach that invests 95% of resources into a single technology (animal experimentation) in the face of challenges that require alternative approaches.