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The In Vitro Acute Skin Irritation of Chemicals: Optimisation of the EPISKIN Prediction Model within the Framework of the ECVAM Validation Process


José Cotovio, Marie-Hélène Grandidier, Pascal Portes, Roland Roguet and Gilles Rubinstenn

In view of the increasing need to identify non-animal tests able to predict acute skin irritation of chemicals, the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) focused on the evaluation of appropriate in vitro models. In vitro tests should be capable of discriminating between irritant (I) chemicals (EU risk: R38) and non-irritant (NI) chemicals (EU risk: “no classification”). Since major in vivo skin irritation assays rely on visual scoring, it is still a challenge to correlate in vivo clinical signs with in vitro biochemical measurements. Being particularly suited to test raw materials or chemicals with a wide variety of physical properties, in vitro skin models resembling in vivo human skin were involved in prevalidation processes. Among many other factors, cytotoxicity is known to trigger irritation processes, and can therefore be a first common event for irritants. A refined protocol (protocol15min–18hours) for the EPISKIN model had been proposed for inclusion in the ECVAM formal validation study. A further improvement on this protocol, mainly based on a post-treatment incubation period of 42 hours (protocol15min–42hours), the optimised protocol, was applied to a set of 48 chemicals. The sensitivity, specificity and accuracy with the MTT assay-based prediction model (PM) were 85%, 78.6% and 81.3% respectively, with a low rate of false negatives (12%). The improved performance of this optimised protocol was confirmed by a higher robustness (homogeneity of individual responses) and a better discrimination between the I and NI classes. To improve the MTT viability-based PM, the release of a membrane damage marker, adenylate kinase (AK), and of cytokines IL-1α and IL-8 were also investigated. Combining these endpoints, a simple two-tiered strategy (TTS) was developed, with the MTT assay as the first, sort-out, stage. This resulted in a clear increase in sensitivity to 95%, and a fall in the false-positive rate (to 4.3%), thus demonstrating its usefulness as a “decision-making” tool. The optimised protocol proved, both by its higher performances and by its robustness, to be a good candidate for the validation process, as well as a potential alternative method for assessing acute skin irritation.