Isolated human hepatocytes in culture display markedly different gene expression patterns depending on attachment status

Toxicol In Vitro. 2003 Oct-Dec;17(5-6):693-701. doi: 10.1016/s0887-2333(03)00102-4.


In vitro human hepatocyte cultures are a key tool in the investigation of xenobiotic toxicity and metabolism. In most in vitro hepatocyte studies, the cells are allowed to adhere to an extracellular matrix, such as collagen. Unfortunately, the ability of freshly isolated hepatocytes to adhere to collagen varies from donor to donor. We used microarray analysis to determine what gene expression differences exist between hepatocytes in suspension and hepatocytes attached to collagen. Results from different donors showed a considerable difference in gene expression patterns between the two hepatocyte populations. In addition, we also compared the gene expression profiles of hepatocytes in culture with liver tissue. The results showed that both hepatocytes in suspension and hepatocytes attached to collagen display significant gene expression differences compared with liver tissue. Finally, we show that both populations of hepatocytes are responsive to dexamethasone and regulate some of the same genes. Overall, our results suggest that either significant gene expression changes occur in isolated hepatocytes or that suspended and attached cells represent different populations of hepatocytes found in intact livers.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Albumins / genetics
  • Albumins / metabolism
  • Branched DNA Signal Amplification Assay / methods
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Gene Expression*
  • Hepatocytes / cytology
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism


  • Albumins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Dexamethasone
  • Collagen