Development of computer models to predict chemicals interference with thyroid hormones (project finished)

Marianne Dybdahl

There is a growing concern about chemicals that may interfere with the body’s hormone systems and cause harmful effects. So far most focus has been on chemicals that alter the balance of sex hormones, but interference with thyroid hormones is now receiving increasing attention. Besides their function in energy metabolism, thyroid hormones play an important role during early brain development. Even moderate and transient reductions in maternal hormone levels during pregnancy can adversely affect the child’s neurological development.

Chemicals may interfere with the thyroid hormones in many different ways, such as altering the production of the hormones, or altering their transport and metabolism in the body. A battery of different test methods is therefore needed to study the potential effects of chemicals, and this is a very resource-consuming task for the many thousands of untested chemicals.

To facilitate this task, computer models have become an important tool to screen and prioritize chemicals for further experimental testing, thereby reducing costs and number of test animals. At DTU Food we are using computer models to predict health effects of chemicals based on their molecular structure. The models are so-called QSARs (quantitative structure-activity relationships).

The aim of the project is to develop computer models for some of the many mechanisms underlying interference with thyroid hormones. To build the models, we will e.g. use experimental test data obtained through collaboration with the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The developed models will be used to screen more than 600,000 chemicals, including around 70,000 chemicals available at the European market. The resulting predictions will be made freely available in an online database. Such a virtual screening may in a fast and cost-efficient way identify potential thyroid hormone disrupting chemicals in our food, environment and consumer products. The new models can also contribute to future design of safer chemicals and drugs.

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