Among the food-related health issues, the presence of contaminants has a prominent role, due to the wide range of exogenous compounds that can occur in food commodities and to their large differences in structure and biological activity. A comprehensive assessment of the related risk is thus actually demanding in terms of time and facilities involved. In this context, the use of computational strategies can be an effective choice for supporting the hazard identification procedure at the early stage. In this work, we focused on the food contaminant zearalenone by comparing the trans and cis isomers, respectively the well-known mycoestrogen and its still largely understudied isomer. We estimated the possible effects exerted by human metabolism on the xenoestrogenicity of cis-ZEN by using a validated in silico strategy based on docking simulations and rescoring procedures. Similarly, the exploitation of the most promising enzymatic detoxifying routes designed for trans-ZEN – which relies on the enzyme lactono hydrolase from Clonostachys rosea – has been assessed for the cis-isomer as well. Our results showed that both isomers can act as functional analogues with respect to xenoestrogenic activity, and several cis-ZEN metabolites with high biological potential have been identified. On the contrary, in spite of the high degree of structural analogy, the cis isomer showed a pattern of interaction with the degrading enzyme in stark contrast with that observed for trans-ZEN. For these reasons, the outcomes presented herein strongly support the inclusion of cis-ZEN in further studies of occurrence, metabolism and bioactivity assessment, and suggest the need for a dedicated handling for the cis isomer in risk assessment studies.
The full paper is available on Food and Chemical Toxicology.