Cryopreserved human hepatocytes: characterization of drug-metabolizing enzyme activities and applications in higher throughput screening assays for hepatotoxicity, metabolic stability, and drug-drug interaction potential

Chem Biol Interact. 1999 Jun 1;121(1):17-35. doi: 10.1016/s0009-2797(99)00088-5.


Cryopreserved human hepatocytes were extensively characterized in our laboratory. The post-thaw viability, measured via dye exclusion, ranged from 55 to 83%, for hepatocytes cryopreserved from 17 donors. Post-thaw viability and yield (viable cells per vial) were found to be stable up to the longest storage duration evaluated of 120 days. Drug-metabolizing enzyme activities of the cryopreserved hepatocytes (mean of ten donors) as percentages of the freshly isolated cells were: 97%, for cytochrome P450 isoform (CYP) 1A2, 78% for CYP2A6, 96% for CYP2C9. 86% for CYP2Cl9, 90% for CYP2D6, 164% for CYP3A4, 76% for UDP-glucuronidase, and 88% for umbelliferone sulfotransferase. Known species-differences in 7-ethoxycoumarin (7-EC) metabolism were reproduced by cryopreserved hepatocytes from human, rat, rabbit, dog, and monkey, illustrating the utility of cryopreserved hepatocytes from multiple animal species in the evaluation of species-differences in drug metabolism. Higher throughput screening (HTS) assays were developed using cryopreserved human hepatocytes for hepatotoxicity, metabolic stability, and inhibitory drug-drug interactions. Dose-dependent cytotoxicity, measured using MTT metabolism as an endpoint, was observed for the known hepatotoxic chemicals tamoxifen, clozapine, cadmium chloride, diclofenac, amiodarone, tranylcypromine, precocene II, but not for 2-thiouracil. Cell density- and time-dependent metabolism of 7-EC and dextromethorphan were observed in the HTS assay for metabolic stability. Known CYP isoform-specific inhibitors were evaluated in the HTS assay for inhibitory drug-drug interactions. Furafylline, sulfaphenazole, quinidine, and ketoconazole were found to be specific inhibitors of CYP1A2, CYP2C9, CYP2D6, and CYP3A4, respectively. Tranylcypromine and diethyldithiocarbamate were found to be less specific, with inhibitory effects towards several CYP isoforms, including CYP2A6, CYP2C9, CYP2C19, and CYP2E1. These results suggest that cryopreserved human hepatocytes represent a useful experimental tool for the evaluation of drug metabolism, toxicity, and inhibitory drug-drug interaction potential.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Cryopreservation*
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism*
  • Dogs
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods*
  • Drug Interactions / physiology*
  • Enzyme Stability / drug effects
  • Enzyme Stability / physiology
  • Formazans / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver* / cytology
  • Liver* / drug effects
  • Liver* / enzymology
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Preservation*
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Species Specificity
  • Tetrazolium Salts / metabolism
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*


  • Formazans
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • MTT formazan
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System