The embryonic stem cell test (EST) is a validated in vitro method to assess the embryotoxic potential of compounds and is a promising tool for drug screening. EST requires microscopic observation of beating cardiomyocytes differentiated from embryonic stem cells as a toxicological endpoint. However, this process is time-consuming and lacks throughput performance. To improve the analysis, we introduced an electrophysiological method with a microelectrode array system for the evaluation of differentiated cardiomyocytes. Embryotoxic (valproic acid, verapamil, and 5-fluorouracil) and non-embryotoxic (penicillin G, d-camphor, and isoniazid) compounds were assessed with the system. Mouse embryonic stem cells were differentiated into cardiomyocytes and treated with each compound during the differentiation process. The embryotoxicity of each compound was then assessed by measuring the field potentials of differentiated cardiomyocytes using the microelectrode array system, as well as by microscopic evaluation. All the embryotoxic compounds dose-dependently inhibited the field potential formation and the myocardial beating of differentiated cells, while the non-embryotoxic compounds did not affect either endpoint. The detection capabilities of the two assay methods were similar. These results indicated that the field potential measurements can be used as an alternative endpoint of EST. Moreover, the field potential can be measured automatically, introducing a high throughput performance compared to the conventional microscopic observation. We therefore concluded that the endpoint analysis with the microelectrode array system improves the original EST and can be useful for the assessment of the embryotoxic potential of compounds.
2010 The Japanese Society of Toxicology