Hepatocyte cell lines: their use, scope and limitations in drug metabolism studies

Expert Opin Drug Metab Toxicol. 2006 Apr;2(2):183-212. doi: 10.1517/17425255.2.2.183.


Gaining knowledge on the metabolism of a drug, the enzymes involved and its inhibition or induction potential is a necessary step in pharmaceutical development of new compounds. Primary human hepatocytes are considered a cellular model of reference, as they express the majority of drug-metabolising enzymes, respond to enzyme inducers and are capable of generating in vitro a metabolic profile similar to what is found in vivo. However, hepatocytes show phenotypic instability and have a restricted accessibility. Different alternatives have been explored in the past recent years to overcome the limitations of primary hepatocytes. These include immortalisation of adult or fetal human hepatic cells by means of transforming tumour virus genes, oncogenes, conditionally immortalised hepatocytes, and cell fusion. New strategies are currently being used to upregulate the expression of drug-metabolising enzymes in cell lines or to derive hepatocytes from progenitor cells. This paper reviews the features of liver-derived cell lines, their suitability for drug metabolism studies as well as the state-of-the-art of the strategies pursued in order to generate metabolically competent hepatic cell lines.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods*
  • Hepatocytes / cytology
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Xenobiotics / metabolism*
  • Xenobiotics / pharmacokinetics
  • Xenobiotics / pharmacology


  • Xenobiotics