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Chemical similarity and threshold of toxicological concern (TTC) approaches

Funded under: FP7-JRC


There are many national, regional and international programmes - either regulatory or voluntary - to assess the hazards or risks of chemical substances to humans and the environment. The first step in making a hazard assessment of a chemical is to ensure that there is adequate information on each of the endpoints. If adequate information is not available then additional data is needed to complete the dataset for this substance. For reasons of resources and animal welfare, it is important to limit the number of tests that have to be conducted, where this is scientifically justifiable. One approach is to consider closely related chemicals as a group, or chemical category, rather than as individual chemicals. In a category approach, data for chemicals and endpoints that have been already tested are used to estimate the hazard for untested chemicals and endpoints. Categories of chemicals are selected on the basis of similarities in biological activity which is associated with a common underlying mechanism of action.
A homologous series of chemicals exhibiting a coherent trend in biological activity can be rationalised on the basis of a constant change in structure. This type of grouping is relatively straightforward. The challenge lies in identifying the relevant chemical structural and physicochemical characteristics that enable more sophisticated groupings to be made on the basis of similarity in biological activity and hence purported mechanism of action. Linking two chemicals together and rationalising their similarity with reference to one or more endpoints has been very much carried out on an ad hoc basis. Even with larger groups, the process and approach is ad hoc and based on expert judgement. There still appears to be very little guidance about the tools and approaches for grouping chemicals systematically.

Additional information

Authors: PATLEWICZ G et al, European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Health and Consumer Protection, Ispra (IT)
Bibliographic Reference: EUR 22657 EN (2007), 35 pp. Free of charge
Availability: Katalogue Number: LB-NA-22657-EN-N The PDF version can be downloaded from:
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