Issue 2, 2022

Consideration of predicted small-molecule metabolites in computational toxicology


Xenobiotic metabolism has evolved as a key protective system of organisms against potentially harmful chemicals or compounds typically not present in a particular organism. The system's primary purpose is to chemically transform xenobiotics into metabolites that can be excreted via renal or biliary routes. However, in a minority of cases, the metabolites formed are toxic, sometimes even more toxic than the parent compound. Therefore, the consideration of xenobiotic metabolism clearly is of importance to the understanding of the toxicity of a compound. Nevertheless, most of the existing computational approaches for toxicity prediction do not explicitly take metabolism into account and it is currently not known to what extent the consideration of (predicted) metabolites could lead to an improvement of toxicity prediction. In order to study how predictive metabolism could help to enhance toxicity prediction, we explored a number of different strategies to integrate predictions from a state-of-the-art metabolite structure predictor and from modern machine learning approaches for toxicity prediction. We tested the integrated models on five toxicological endpoints and assays, including in vitro and in vivo genotoxicity assays (AMES and MNT), two organ toxicity endpoints (DILI and DICC) and a skin sensitization assay (LLNA). Overall, the improvements in model performance achieved by including metabolism data were minor (up to +0.04 in the F1 scores and up to +0.06 in MCCs). In general, the best performance was obtained by averaging the probability of toxicity predicted for the parent compound and the maximum probability of toxicity predicted for any metabolite. Moreover, including metabolite structures as further input molecules for model training slightly improved the toxicity predictions obtained by this averaging approach. However, the high complexity of the metabolic system and associated uncertainty about the likely metabolites apparently limits the benefit of considering predicted metabolites in toxicity prediction.

Graphical abstract: Consideration of predicted small-molecule metabolites in computational toxicology

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Article information

Article type
05 Oct 2021
10 Feb 2022
First published
23 Feb 2022
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

Digital Discovery, 2022,1, 158-172

Consideration of predicted small-molecule metabolites in computational toxicology

M. Garcia de Lomana, F. Svensson, A. Volkamer, M. Mathea and J. Kirchmair, Digital Discovery, 2022, 1, 158 DOI: 10.1039/D1DD00018G

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