An integrated transcriptomic- and proteomic-based approach to evaluate the human skin sensitization potential of glyphosate and its commercial agrochemical formulations

Journal of Proteomics
Available online 30 January 2020, 03647.

Tim Lindberg, Renato Ivan de Ávila, Kathrin S. Zeller, Fredrik Levander, Dennis Eriksson, Aakash Chawaded, Malin Lindstedt


  • Pure glyphosate was classified as a non-sensitizer using in vitro assessment.
  • POEA, POEA+glyphosate mixture and formulations were identified as skin sensitizers.
  • MS analysis identified protein groups related to immunologically relevant events.
  • Autophagy may be involved in the agrochemical materials-induced DC responses.

We investigated the skin sensitization hazard of glyphosate, the surfactant polyethylated tallow amine (POEA) and two commercial glyphosate-containing formulations using different omics-technologies based on a human dendritic cell (DC)-like cell line. First, the GARD™skin assay, investigating changes in the expression of 200 transcripts upon cell exposure to xenobiotics, was used for skin sensitization prediction. POEA and the formulations were classified as skin sensitizers while glyphosate alone was classified as a non-sensitizer. Interestingly, the mixture of POEA together with glyphosate displayed a similar sensitizing prediction as POEA alone, indicating that glyphosate likely does not increase the sensitizing capacity when associated with POEA. Moreover, mass spectrometry analysis identified differentially regulated protein groups and predicted molecular pathways based on a proteomic approach in response to cell exposures with glyphosate, POEA and the glyphosate-containing formulations. Based on the protein expression data, predicted pathways were linked to immunologically relevant events and regulated proteins further to cholesterol biosynthesis and homeostasis as well as to autophagy, identifying novel aspects of DC responses after exposure to xenobiotics. In summary, we here present an integrative analysis involving advanced technologies to elucidate the molecular mechanisms behind DC activation in the skin sensitization process triggered by the investigated agrochemical materials.

The use of glyphosate has increased worldwide, and much effort has been made to improve risk assessments and to further elucidate the mechanisms behind any potential human health hazard of this chemical and its agrochemical formulations. In this context, omics-based techniques can provide a multiparametric approach, including several biomarkers, to expand the mechanistic knowledge of xenobiotics-induced toxicity. Based on this, we performed the integration of GARD™skin and proteomic data to elucidate the skin sensitization hazard of POEA, glyphosate and its two commercial mixtures, and to investigate cellular responses more in detail on protein level. The proteomic data indicate the regulation of immune response-related pathways and proteins associated with cholesterol biosynthesis and homeostasis as well as to autophagy, identifying novel aspects of DC responses after exposure to xenobiotics. Therefore, our data show the applicability of a multiparametric integrated approach for the mechanism-based hazard evaluation of xenobiotics, eventually complementing decision making in the holistic risk assessment of chemicals regarding their allergenic potential in humans.

Full article
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Identification of skin sensitizers in natural mixtures

This pilot study demonstrated the applicability of the GARDTMskin assay for identification of skin sensitizers in hair dye ingredients, delivering high prediction performance, consistent with existing human data.

The study also indicated that GARDTMskin is a promising in vitro model to identify skin sensitizers in natural mixtures.

Link to Application Note.

Extended solvent selection for in vitro sensitization testing using GARD®

Olivia Larne, Ulrika I Torstensdotter Mattson, Rikard Alm, and Gunilla Grundström.
SenzaGen, Lund, Sweden.

The GARD®skin assay is an in vitro assay developed for the assessment of skin sensitizers. It is based on SenzaCells™, a human dendritic-like cell line, and a biomarker signature analyzed by a prediction model including pattern recognition and machine learning.

During the development of the GARD®skin platform, two solvents were used: DMSO (0.1%) and water. To increase the applicability domain of GARD®skin and the possibility to dissolve certain test items, for e.g. hard to dissolve substances and UVCBs, where show a broader range of solvents compatible with GARD®skin. Also, use of higher concentrations of the tested solvents were explored for the possibility to increase test item concentrations.

Concluding highlights
GARD®skin compatible solvents:

  • Acetone
  • DMF
  • DMF/Glycerol
  • DMSO
  • Ethanol
  • Glycerol
  • Isopropanol

Increased applicability domain.

Link to poster

Poster presented at Eurotox, Helsinki, Sep 9, 2019.


Validation of the GARD™skin assay for assessment of chemical skin sensitizers – ring trial results of predictive performance and reproducibility

Toxicological Sciences, kfz108,

Henrik Johansson, Robin Gradin, Angelica Johansson, Els Adriaens, Amber Edwards, Veronika Zuckerstätter, Anders Jerre, Florence Burleson, Helge Gehrke, Erwin Roggen

Proactive identification of chemicals with skin sensitizing properties is a key toxicological endpoint within chemical safety assessment, as required by legislation for registration of chemicals. In order to meet demands of increased animal welfare and facilitate increased testing efficiency also in non-regulatory settings, considerable efforts have been made to develop non-animal approaches to replace current animal testing.

Genomic Allergen Rapid Detection (GARD) is a state-of-the-art technology platform, the most advanced application of which is the assay for assessment of skin sensitizing chemicals, GARDskin. The methodology is based on a dendritic cell (DC)-like cell line, thus mimicking the mechanistic events leading to initiation and modulation of downstream immunological responses. Induced transcriptional changes are measured following exposure to test chemicals, providing a detailed evaluation of cell activation. These changes are associated with the immunological decision-making role of DCs in vivo and include among other phenotypic modifications, up-regulation of co-stimulatory molecules, induction of cellular and oxidative stress pathways and xenobiotic responses and provide a holistic readout of substance-induced DC activation.Here, results from an inter-laboratory ring trial of GARDskin, conducted in compliance with OECD guidance documents and comprising a blinded chemical test set of 28 chemicals, are summarized. The assay was found to be transferable to naïve laboratories, with an inter-laboratory reproducibility of 92.0%. The within-laboratory reproducibility ranged between 82.1-88.9%, while the cumulative predictive accuracy across the three laboratories was 93.8%.It was concluded that GARDskin is a robust and reliable method for the identification of skin sensitizing chemicals and suitable for stand-alone use or as a constituent of integrated testing. These data form the basis for the regulatory validation of GARDskin.
Full article
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Evaluation of in vitro testing strategies for hazard assessment of the skin sensitization potential of “real‐life” mixtures: the case of henna‐based hair coloring products containing p‐phenylenediamine

Wiley Online Library, First published: 21 April 2019,

Renato I. de Ávila Danillo F. M. C. Veloso Gabriel C. Teixeira Thaisângela L. Rodrigues Tim Lindberg Malin Lindstedt Simone G. Fonseca Eliana M. Lima Marize C. Valadares


Allergic contact dermatitis reported to henna‐based hair coloring products (HPs) has been associated with adulteration of henna with p‐phenylenediamine (PPD).

To develop a testing approach based on in vitro techniques that address key events within the skin sensitization adverse outcome pathway to evaluate allergenic potential of HPs.

The following in vitro assays were used to test the sensitizing capacity of hair dye ingredients: micro‐direct peptide reactivity assay (mDPRA); HaCaT keratinocytes‐associated IL‐18 assay; U937 cell line activation test (USENS)/IL‐8 levels; blood monocyte‐derived dendritic cell test; genomic allergen rapid detection (GARD skin). Those techniques with better human concordance were selected to evaluate the allergenic potential of ten HPs.

Contrasting to the label’s information, chromatographic analyses identified PPD in all products. The main henna biomarker, lawsone, was not detected in one of 10 the products. Among the techniques evaluated by testing HDIs, mDPRA, IL‐18 assay, GARD skin and U‐SENS correlated better with human classification (concordances 91.7 to 100%) and were superior to the animal testing (concordance 78.5%). Thus, these assays were used to evaluate HPs, which were classified as skin sensitizers using different two‐out‐of‐three approaches.

Our findings highlight toxicological consequences and risks associated of the undisclosed use of PPD in henna‐based “natural” “real‐life” products.

This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Our view on alternative testing for product safety in Manufacturing Chemist

To replace a test animal, which is clearly a complex system with blood and organs, you need a more holistic approach to model the entire allergic response within the body. Our CEO Anki Malmborg Hager explains the benefits of using alternative testing methods to prove product safety in this week’s Manufacturing Chemist.

Read the article here

Skin Sensitization Testing—What’s Next?

Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2019, 20(3), 666;  

Gunilla Grundström and Carl A.K. Borrebaeck


There is an increasing demand for alternative in vitro methods to replace animal testing, and, to succeed, new methods are required to be at least as accurate as existing in vivo tests. However, skin sensitization is a complex process requiring coordinated and tightly regulated interactions between a variety of cells and molecules. Consequently, there is considerable difficulty in reproducing this level of biological complexity in vitro, and as a result the development of non-animal methods has posed a major challenge. However, with the use of a relevant biological system, the high information content of whole genome expression, and comprehensive bioinformatics, assays for most complex biological processes can be achieved. We propose that the Genomic Allergen Rapid Detection (GARD™) assay, developed to create a holistic data-driven in vitro model with high informational content, could be such an example. Based on the genomic expression of a mature human dendritic cell line and state-of-the-art machine learning techniques, GARD™ can today accurately predict skin sensitizers and correctly categorize skin sensitizing potency. Consequently, by utilizing advanced processing tools in combination with high information genomic or proteomic data, we can take the next step toward alternative methods with the same predictive accuracy as today’s in vivo methods—and beyond.


genomics; machine learning; skin sensitization; adverse outcome pathways; next generation in vitro tests

Article online

A mechanistic reinterpretation of the AOP for skin sensitisation

David W Roberts, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool

Introduction – Non-Animal Prediction: the 21st Century Consensus
Because of the biological complexity of the skin sensitisation process no single in chemico or in vitro assay will be an appropriate replacement for an animal-based assay such as LLNA or GPMT…
…to ensure a mechanistic basis and cover the complexity, multiple methods should be integrated into a testing strategy, in accordance with the adverse outcome pathway that describes all key events in skin sensitisation.

We need an ITS based on the KEs of the AOP…but
Is that what we really need?


A single assay, GARD™, predicts sensitisation potential and absence of sensitisation potential better than any of, or combinations of, the OECD guideline assays DPRA, KeratinosensTM (ARE-Nrf2 ) and h-CLAT.

We do not really need an ITS covering all KE’s of the AOP.

Link to poster

Is a combination of assays really needed for non-animal prediction of skin sensitization potential? Performance of the GARD™ (Genomic Allergen Rapid Detection) assay in comparison with OECD guideline assays alone and in combination

Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, Volume 98, October 2018, Pages 155-160,

David W.Roberts


  • Prediction of skin sensitization potential does not need multiple assays representing Key Events of the AOP.
  • This has been argued on theoretical grounds and is now tested against published data.
  • A single assay, GARD™, can outperform combinations of OECD test guideline assays.

To meet regulatory requirements, and avoid or minimize animal testing, there is a need for non-animal methods to assess the potential of chemicals to cause skin sensitization. It is widely assumed that no one test will be sufficient and that combined data from several assays spanning key events from the adverse outcome pathway will be required. This paper challenges that assumption. The predictive performance of a single assay, the Genomic Allergen Rapid Detection (GARD™) assay, was compared with the performance, singly and in combination, of three formally validated non-animal approaches that appear as OECD test guidelines: the direct peptide reactivity assay (DPRA), the ARE-Nrf2 luciferase test method, and the human cell line activation test (h-CLAT).

It is shown here that GARD™ alone outperforms each of DPRA, ARE-Nrf2 luciferase or h-CLAT, alone or in any combination as a 2 out of 3 strategy, in terms of sensitivity, specificity and accuracy.

Based on the datasets analysed here, the sensitivity and specificity of GARD™ alone are 90–92% and 79–84% (“2 out of 3”, 86% and 76%). Thus, in any situation where the 2 out of 3 strategy is considered adequate, GARD™ alone could be used with equal or better performance.

Skin sensitization potential, Non-animal assays, Integrated testing strategies, GARD™

Full article
Article on line

GARD® and SenzaGen mentioned in Chemical Risk Manager, September 18, 2018

Don’t miss the interesting article in Chemical Risk Manager in Chemical Watch, written by Dr. Emma Davies, with the title; Skin sensitization integrated testing strategies need rethink, expert suggests.

Emma Davies is interviewing the UK academic Dr. David Roberts after his publication of an article in Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology in July where he is discussing the relevance of Integrated Testing Strategy (ITS) for skin sensitization testing as well as he is presenting data on the performance of the GARDskin test method compared to the OECD -tests.  

In short, David Roberts from Liverpool John Moores University questions the science behind integrated testing strategies (ITS) for combining in vitro test methods to predict skin sensitisation, as required by REACH. Instead, Roberts suggests, ”… that the genomic allergen rapid detection (GARD) assay for skin sensitisation may outperform other OECD validated test methods, either alone or in combination.”

Dr. David Roberts will present his data and the research behind the article at the EUSAAT meeting 23-26 September in Linz, and at the ESTIV conference 15-18 October in Berlin

Read the article here (requires subscription to Chemical Watch):