The application of natural language processing for the extraction of mechanistic information in toxicology

Marie Corradi*, Thomas Luechtefeld, Alyanne M de Haan, Raymond Pieters, Jonathan H Freedman, Tamara Vanhaecke, Mathieu Vinken, Marc Teunis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


To study the ways in which compounds can induce adverse effects, toxicologists have been constructing Adverse Outcome Pathways (AOPs). An AOP can be considered as a pragmatic tool to capture and visualize mechanisms underlying different types of toxicity inflicted by any kind of stressor, and describes the interactions between key entities that lead to the adverse outcome on multiple biological levels of organization. The construction or optimization of an AOP is a labor intensive process, which currently depends on the manual search, collection, reviewing and synthesis of available scientific literature. This process could however be largely facilitated using Natural Language Processing (NLP) to extract information contained in scientific literature in a systematic, objective, and rapid manner that would lead to greater accuracy and reproducibility. This would support researchers to invest their expertise in the substantive assessment of the AOPs by replacing the time spent on evidence gathering by a critical review of the data extracted by NLP. As case examples, we selected two frequent adversities observed in the liver: namely, cholestasis and steatosis denoting accumulation of bile and lipid, respectively. We used deep learning language models to recognize entities of interest in text and establish causal relationships between them. We demonstrate how an NLP pipeline combining Named Entity Recognition and a simple rules-based relationship extraction model helps screen compounds related to liver adversities in the literature, but also extract mechanistic information for how such adversities develop, from the molecular to the organismal level. Finally, we provide some perspectives opened by the recent progress in Large Language Models and how these could be used in the future. We propose this work brings two main contributions: 1) a proof-of-concept that NLP can support the extraction of information from text for modern toxicology and 2) a template open-source model for recognition of toxicological entities and extraction of their relationships. All resources are openly accessible via GitHub (

Original languageEnglish
Article number1393662
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Toxicology
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • adverse outcome pathway
  • machine learning
  • natural language processing
  • open science
  • risk assessment
  • toxicology


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