The DNT-EST: A predictive embryonic stem cell-based assay for developmental neurotoxicity testing in vitro
As the developing brain is exquisitely vulnerable to chemical disturbances, testing for developmental neurotoxicity of a substance is an important aspect of characterizing its tissue specific toxicity. Mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) can be differentiated toward a neural phenotype, and this can be used as a model for early brain development. We developed a new in vitro assay using mESCs to predict adverse effects of chemicals and other compounds on neural development - the so-called DNT-EST. After treatment of differentiating stem cells for 48h or 72h at two key developmental stages, endpoints for neural differentiation, viability and proliferation were assessed. As a reference we similarly treated undifferentiated stem cells 2 days after plating for 48h or 72h in parallel to the differentiating stem cells. Here, we show that chemical testing of a training set comprising nine substances (six substances of known developmental toxicity and three without specific developmental neurotoxicity) enabled a mathematical prediction model to be formulated that provided 100% predictivity and accuracy for the given substances, including in leave-one-out cross-validation. The described test method can be performed within two weeks, including data analysis, and provides a prediction of the developmental neurotoxicity potency of a substance.