Impact of experimental design factors on the potency of genotoxicants in in vitro tests

Julie Sanders, Anouck Thienpont, Roel Anthonissen, Tamara Vanhaecke, Birgit Mertens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous studies have shown that differences in experimental design factors may alter the potency of genotoxic compounds in in vitro genotoxicity tests. Most of these studies used traditional statistical methods based on the lowest observed genotoxic effect levels, whereas more appropriate methods, such as the benchmark dose (BMD) approach, are now available to compare genotoxic potencies under different test conditions. We therefore investigated the influence of two parameters, i.e. cell type and exposure duration, on the potencies of two known genotoxicants [aflatoxin B1 and ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS)] in the in vitro micronucleus (MN) assay and comet assay (CA). Both compounds were tested in the two assays using two cell types (i.e. CHO-K1 and TK6 cells). To evaluate the effect of exposure duration, the genotoxicity of EMS was assessed after 3 and 24 h of exposure. Results were analyzed using the BMD covariate approach, also referred to as BMD potency ranking, and the outcome was compared with that of more traditional statistical methods based on lowest observed genotoxic effect levels. When comparing the in vitro MN results obtained in both cell lines with the BMD covariate approach, a difference in potency was detected only when EMS exposures were conducted for 24 h, with TK6 cells being more sensitive. No difference was observed in the potency of both EMS and aflatoxin B1 in the in vitro CA using both cell lines. In contrast, EMS was more potent after 24 h exposure compared with a 3 h exposure under all tested conditions, i.e. in the in vitro MN assay and CA in both cell lines. Importantly, for several of the investigated factors, the BMD covariate method could not be used to confirm the differences in potencies detected with the traditional statistical methods, thus highlighting the need to evaluate the impact of experimental design factors with adequate approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-258
Number of pages11
Issue number5-6
Early online date30 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2022


  • in vitro comet assay
  • in vitro micronucleus assay
  • CHO-K1
  • DNA damage
  • TK6
  • benchmark dose covariate


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