Application of the hard and soft, acids and bases (HSAB) theory as a method to predict cumulative neurotoxicity

Fjodor Melnikov, Brian C. Geohagen, Terrence Gavin, Richard M. LoPachin, Paul T. Anastas, Phillip Coish, David W. Herr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Xenobiotic electrophiles can form covalent adducts that may impair protein function, damage DNA, and may lead a range of adverse effects. Cumulative neurotoxicity is one adverse effect that has been linked to covalent protein binding as a Molecular Initiating Event (MIE). This paper describes a mechanistic in silico chemical screening approach for neurotoxicity based on Hard and Soft Acids and Bases (HSAB) theory. We evaluated the applicability of HSAB-based electrophilicity screening protocol for neurotoxicity on 19 positive and 19 negative reference chemicals. These reference chemicals were identified from the literature, using available information on mechanisms of neurotoxicity whenever possible. In silico screening was based on structural alerts for protein binding motifs and electrophilicity index in the range of known neurotoxicants. The approach demonstrated both a high positive prediction rate (82–90 %) and specificity (90 %). The overall sensitivity was relatively lower (47 %). However, when predicting the toxicity of chemicals known or suspected of acting via non-specific adduct formation mechanism, the HSAB approach identified 7/8 (sensitivity 88 %) of positive control chemicals correctly. Consequently, the HSAB-based screening is a promising approach of identifying possible neurotoxins with adduct formation molecular initiating events. While the approach must be expanded over time to capture a wider range of MIEs involved in neurotoxicity, the mechanistic nature of the screen allows users to flag chemicals for possible adduct formation MIEs. Thus, the HSAB based toxicity screening is a promising strategy for toxicity assessment and chemical prioritization in neurotoxicology and other health endpoints that involve adduct formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-103
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Jul 2020


  • Hard and soft acid Base
  • In silico
  • Neurotoxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Toxicology


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