Advantages of in vitro cytotoxicity testing by using primary rat hepatocytes in comparison with established cell lines

J Toxicol Sci. 2002 Aug;27(3):229-37. doi: 10.2131/jts.27.229.


We investigated and compared the cytotoxicity of 16 reference compounds in four in vitro systems: primary cultured rat hepatocytes, hepatoma HepG2 cell line, non-hepatic HeLa and Balb/c 3T3 cell lines. After 24 hr of exposure to the test compounds, the water-soluble tetrazolium salts WST-1 assay was used as an endpoint to evaluate cytotoxicity. Acetaminophen, diclofenac sodium cyclophosphamide and disulfiram displayed from 2 to more than 10 times higher IC50 values in three cell lines than in rat primary cultured hepatocytes. The cytotoxic effects of aspirin, amiodarone, clorfibiric acid, chlorpromazine, erythomycin, lithocholic acid, cisplatin and quinidine in rat hepatocytes were similar or 2 times stronger than those observed in cell lines. Ketoconazole resulted in the lowest IC50 value in the HeLa cell line. The data suggested that the compounds which are known to be metabolism-mediated liver toxicants have a differential hepatotoxicity in vitro and that primary cultured rat hepatocytes could represent a valuable tool for both screening and study of the effects of bio-transformation on the cytotoxicity of new chemical entities and xenobiotics in vitro.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • 3T3 Cells / drug effects*
  • 3T3 Cells / pathology
  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • HeLa Cells / drug effects*
  • HeLa Cells / pathology
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects*
  • Hepatocytes / pathology
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*
  • Xenobiotics / toxicity*


  • Xenobiotics