Many chemicals accumulate in organisms through a variety of different mechanisms. Cationic amphiphilic drugs (CADs) accumulate in lysosomes and bind to membranes causing phospholipidosis, whereas many lipophilic chemicals target adipose tissue. Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are widely used as surfactants, but many of them are highly bioaccumulating and persistent in the environment, making them notorious environmental toxicants. Understanding the mechanisms of their bioaccumulation is, therefore, important for their regulation and substitution with new, less harmful chemicals. We compared the highly bioaccumulative perfluorooctanesulfonic acid PFOS to its three less bioaccumulative alternatives perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA) and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS), in their ability to accumulate and remain in lung epithelial cells (NCI-H292) and adipocytes (3T3-L1K) in vitro. As a reference point we tested a set of cationic amphiphilic drugs (CADs), known to highly accumulate in cells and strongly bind to phospholipids, together with their respective non-CAD controls. Finally, all compounds were examined for their ability to bind to neutral lipids and phospholipids in cell-free systems. Cellular accumulation and retention of the test compounds were highly correlated between the lung epithelial cells and adipocytes. Interestingly, although an anion itself, intensities of PFOS accumulation and retention in cells were comparable to those of CAD compounds, but PFOS failed to induce phospholipidosis or alter lysosomal volume. Compared to other lipophilicity measures, phospholipophilicity shows the highest correlation (Rˆ2 = 0.75) to cellular accumulation data in both cell types and best distinguishes between high and low accumulating compounds. This indicates that binding to phospholipids may be the most important component in driving high cellular accumulation in lung epithelial cells, as well as in adipocytes, and for both CADs and bioaccumulating PFASs. Obtained continuous PLS models based on compound's affinity for phospholipids and neutral lipids can be used as good prediction models of cellular accumulation and retention of PFASs and CADs.
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