How do pollutants and other chemicals to which we are exposed affect our health? Researchers at Linköping University in Sweden applied a method to identify proteins in the body affected by chemicals. The method can be used to find out at an early stage whether a substance has biological effects in an organism.
They are found in the water we drink, the food we eat and the environment around us – pollutants. Over 100,000 chemicals are used in manufacturing, agriculture, industry and consumer goods. Every day of our lives, we come into contact with chemicals that can be absorbed by our bodies. Some of them can have negative effects on our health. In addition, some substances become more harmful when combined with others than individually, a phenomenon known as the “cocktail effect”.
One of the challenges of toxicology over the past decades has been to predict the effects of exposure to mixtures of many different chemicals.
“Pollutant levels are continually rising and it is extremely difficult to test the effects of all chemicals. It is particularly difficult to test mixtures of substances. I think our approach can lead to a more efficient use of time and money than traditional methods, which test the effects on one biological mechanism at a time, ”says Veronica Lizano-Fallas, doctoral student in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Clinics (BKV) of Linköping University.
The researchers point out that the method, which they describe in an article in Proteomics Journal, can be used to detect, at an early stage, the undesirable biological effects of substances. These effects can then be studied in more detail using other methods.
“Chemicals interact with proteins quite closely, and we often find that several proteins are influenced by the substances we test. We see that the functions of proteins are affected by their interactions with chemicals, which is consistent with the effects of pollutants and harmful substances in the cell, ”explains Susana Cristobal, professor at BKV, who led the study.
The new approach applied by the researchers at LiU is based on a technique developed to study pharmaceuticals, the alteration of the integral solubility of the proteome, abbreviated as “PISA”. The researchers examined how the method can be used to identify proteins in an organism that interact with pollutants and other chemicals. In an effort to obtain proteins from all types of cells in an organism, its proteome, the researchers extracted proteins from zebrafish embryos. They mixed the proteome with one or more substances.
The researchers applied the method to four scenarios: an individual pollutant, a mixture of chemicals, a new bioactive substance, and the adverse effects of a new drug. They tested, for example, the effects of a well-studied environmental toxin, TCDD, and identified several proteins affected by TCDD that were not known in previous studies. The results suggest that studying an organism’s entire proteome with this method will allow scientists to find more possible molecular interactions between chemicals and proteins.
The research received financial support, among others, from the ERA-NET marine biotechnology project CYANOBESITY, co-funded by Formas, and the GOLIATH research project, funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 program.