Key Learnings from the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP) Tier 1 Rodent Uterotrophic and Hershberger Assays
A current issue for regulatory agencies is endocrine-related modes of action such as those mediated by the estrogen, androgen, and thyroid nuclear receptors. At the national and international levels, the consensus recommendation for the assessment of such modes of action is a tiered series of in vitro and in vivo protocols. The tiered framework begins with screens for structural alerts and then moves to rapid, mechanistic in vitro screening assays, and then to in vivo screening bioassays. The objective of these screens is to identify substances that may warrant testing for endocrine-mediated adverse effects. The final framework tier as needed is to test these substances in long-term bioassays for adverse endocrine-mediated reproductive and/or developmental effects. The subject of this review, the rodent uterotrophic bioassay, is intended to be a rapid in vivo screening bioassay for possible estrogen agonists and based on the response of the estrogen-sensitive uterus. The central metric of bioassay is a statistically significant increase in the weight of the uterus after 3 consecutive days of test substance administration. The extensive background literature is summarized in this review on the mode of action underlying the bioassay and the uterine response to estrogens. The review includes the bioassay's history of development and how its employment has changed and evolved over time. The review describes two major uterotrophic bioassay versions, the intact, immature female and the mature, ovariectomized female, and the protocol factors likely to influence relevance, reproducibility, and reliability of bioassay. The emphasis of the review is the ability of the uterotrophic bioassay to identify the substances of current interest: weak estrogen agonists with binding affinities relative to the natural 17beta-estradiol in the log 0 to log -3 range. Using selected model substances having RBAs in this target range, the bioassay's performance in a hierarchical, tiered approach is evaluated, including the predictive capability of the uterotrophic bioassay based on available reproductive and developmental testing data. The review concludes that the uterotrophic bioassay is reliable and can identify substances that may act via an estrogen-mode of action, supporting the validity of the uterotrophic bioassay and its regulatory use as an in vivo mechanistic screening bioassay for estrogen agonists and antagonists.