An improved resazurin-based cytotoxicity assay for hepatic cells

Cell Biol Toxicol. 2002;18(3):157-73. doi: 10.1023/a:1015559603643.


A simple resazurin-based cytotoxicity assay is presented for screening of cytotoxicity in hepatocytes and liver cell lines. Human hepatoma (HepG2) cells in 96-well culture plates were exposed to known toxic (cisplatin, 5-fluorouracil, ethionine, flufenamic acid, and diflunisal) and control (transplatin, 5-chlorouracil, methionine, and acetylsalicylic acid) compounds for 1-3 days, and resazurin (5 micromol/L) was added. A conventional short-term (1 h) assay was first performed, where cytotoxicity is indicated by decreased reduction of resazurin to its fluorescent product resorufin. Our improved assay consists of additionally measuring fluorescence 2-4 days later, when cytotoxicity is indicated by a striking increase in the concentration of resorufin, resulting from two distinct processes. First, viable liver-derived cells slowly convert resorufin to nonfluorescent metabolites. Fluorescence of control cell wells decreased to background during a 2- to 4-day exposure to resazurin. This metabolism of resorufin was largely blocked by dicumarol and to lesser extents by disulfiram and SKF525a. Second, dead or dying cells slowly convert resazurin to resorufin but do not further metabolize resorufin; thus this fluorescent metabolite accumulates to high levels in wells with dead cells by 2 to 4 days. A similar increase in fluorescence associated with cytotoxicity was observed in primary cultures of rat hepatocytes using the long-term resazurin-based assay. In addition to an improved signal relative to the short-term assay, the inversion of the fluorescent signal from high = alive short-term to high = dead long-term allows determination of two independent cytotoxicity endpoints after addition of one innocuous vital dye.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Hepatocytes / cytology
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Indicators and Reagents / chemistry*
  • Oxazines / chemistry*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Rats
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Xanthenes*


  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Oxazines
  • Xanthenes
  • resazurin