Human biomarker interpretation: the importance of intra-class correlation coefficients (ICC) and their calculations based on mixed models, ANOVA, and variance estimates

Joachim D. Pleil*, M. Ariel Geer Wallace, Matthew A. Stiegel, William E. Funk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Human biomonitoring is the foundation of environmental toxicology, community public health evaluation, preclinical health effects assessments, pharmacological drug development and testing, and medical diagnostics. Within this framework, the intra-class correlation coefficient (ICC) serves as an important tool for gaining insight into human variability and responses and for developing risk-based assessments in the face of sparse or highly complex measurement data. The analytical procedures that provide data for clinical and public health efforts are continually evolving to expand our knowledge base of the many thousands of environmental and biomarker chemicals that define human systems biology. These chemicals range from the smallest molecules from energy metabolism (i.e., the metabolome), through larger molecules including enzymes, proteins, RNA, DNA, and adducts. In additiona, the human body contains exogenous environmental chemicals and contributions from the microbiome from gastrointestinal, pulmonary, urogenital, naso-pharyngeal, and skin sources. This complex mixture of biomarker chemicals from environmental, human, and microbiotic sources comprise the human exposome and generally accessed through sampling of blood, breath, and urine. One of the most difficult problems in biomarker assessment is assigning probative value to any given set of measurements as there are generally insufficient data to distinguish among sources of chemicals such as environmental, microbiotic, or human metabolism and also deciding which measurements are remarkable from those that are within normal human variability. The implementation of longitudinal (repeat) measurement strategies has provided new statistical approaches for interpreting such complexities, and use of descriptive statistics based upon intra-class correlation coefficients (ICC) has become a powerful tool in these efforts. This review has two parts; the first focuses on the history of repeat measures of human biomarkers starting with occupational toxicology of the early 1950s through modern applications in interpretation of the human exposome and metabolic adverse outcome pathways (AOPs). The second part reviews different methods for calculating the ICC and explores the strategies and applications in light of different data structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-180
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Toxicology and Environmental Health - Part B: Critical Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 3 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Toxicology


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