Systems toxicology meta-analysis of in vitro assessment studies: biological impact of a candidate modified-risk tobacco product aerosol compared with cigarette smoke on human organotypic cultures of the aerodigestive tract
Systems biology combines comprehensive molecular analyses with quantitative modeling to understand the characteristics of a biological system as a whole. Leveraging a similar approach, systems toxicology aims to decipher complex biological responses following exposures. This work reports a systems toxicology meta-analysis in the context of in vitro assessment of a candidate modified-risk tobacco product (MRTP) using three human organotypic cultures of the aerodigestive tract (buccal, bronchial, and nasal epithelia). Complementing a series of functional measures, a causal network enrichment analysis of transcriptomic data was used to compare quantitatively the biological impact of aerosol from the Tobacco Heating System (THS) 2.2, a candidate MRTP, with 3R4F cigarette smoke (CS) at similar nicotine concentrations. Lower toxicity was observed in all cultures following exposure to THS2.2 aerosol compared with 3R4F CS. Because of their morphological differences, a smaller exposure impact was observed in the buccal (stratified epithelium) compared with the bronchial and nasal (pseudostratified epithelium). However, the causal network enrichment approach supported a similar mechanistic impact of CS across the three cultures, including the impact on xenobiotic, oxidative stress, and inflammatory responses. At comparable nicotine concentrations, THS2.2 aerosol elicited reduced and more transient effects on these processes. To demonstrate the benefits of additional data modalities, we employed a newly established targeted mass-spectrometry marker panel to further confirm the reduced cellular stress responses elicited by THS2.2 aerosol compared with 3R4F CS in the nasal culture. Overall, this work demonstrates the applicability and robustness of the systems toxicology approach for in vitro inhalation toxicity assessment.