Determinants of molecular reactivity as criteria for predicting toxicity: Problems and approaches

H. Weinstein, J. Rabinowitz, M. N. Liebman, R. Osman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


We discuss the physicochemical basis for mechanisms of action of toxic chemicals and theoretical methods that can be used to understand the relation to the structure of these chemicals. Molecular properties that determine the chemical reactivity of the compounds are proposed as parameters in the analysis of such structure-activity relationships and as criteria for predicting potential toxicity. The theoretical approaches include quantitative methods for structural superposition of molecules and for superposition of their reactivity characteristics. Applications to polychlorinated hydrocarbons are used to illustrate both rigid superposition methods, and methods that take advantage of structural flexibility. These approaches and their results are discussed and compared with methods that afford quantitative structural comparisons without direct superposition, with special emphasis on the need for efficient automated methods suitable for rapid scans of large structural data bases. Quantum mechanical methods for the calculation of molecular properties that can serve as reactivity criteria are presented and illustrated. Special attention is given to the electrostatic properties of the molecules such as the molecular electrostatic potential, the electric fields, and the polarizability terms calculated from perturbation expansions. The practical considerations related to the rapid calculation of these properties on relevant molecular surfaces (e.g., solvent- or reagent-accessible surfaces) are discussed and exemplified, stressing the special problems posed by the structural variety of toxic substances and the paucity of information on their mechanisms of action. The discussion leads to a rationale for the use of the combination of theoretical methods to reveal discriminant criteria for toxicity and to analyze the initial steps in the metabolic processes that could yield toxic products.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-162
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
VolumeVOL. 61
StatePublished - 1985
Externally publishedYes


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