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Comment: A Critical Assessment of the OECD Collaborative Study to Validate the Uterotrophic Assay for the Detection of Oestrogenic and Anti-oestrogenic Chemicals

Robert D. Combes

The design and execution of a recently completed validation study on the rat uterotrophic assay for detecting oestrogens and anti-oestrogens, managed by the OECD, are critically assessed with respect to internationally agreed criteria for the validation of new in vitro and in vivo toxicity test methods. It is concluded that, while the design of the study did not take account of several important criteria for validation, the uterotrophic assay appears to reliably detect the strong and weak oestrogenic substances used in the study, which act via binding to the oestrogen receptor in vivo. However, the reliability of the assay has not been substantiated for detecting anti-oestrogens that act as antagonists, due to the involvement of an insufficient number of experiments and test chemicals. Moreover, the data do not permit an assessment of the accuracy of the prediction of oestrogenicity, and the protocols have not been sufficiently optimised with regard to controlling variables. This problem has been exacerbated by a wish to introduce as much flexibility as possible into the protocols during the formal validation phase of the study, rather than during a separate prevalidation stage. In addition, the choice between surgically treated and/or immature animals, and details of housing and husbandry conditions that are necessary for increasing the sensitivity and efficiency of the assay, need to be clarified. The assay also lacks a well-defined prediction model by which the overall relevance of the data to toxicity, and especially to human hazard, can be assessed, and no performance criteria have been established. The results of this analysis of the study indicate that it would be premature to produce an OECD test guideline for the uterotrophic assay at this time, before some of the above issues have been satisfactorily resolved.