The human hepatoma HepaRG cells: a highly differentiated model for studies of liver metabolism and toxicity of xenobiotics

Chem Biol Interact. 2007 May 20;168(1):66-73. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2006.12.003. Epub 2006 Dec 16.


Although they have several important limitations primary human hepatocytes still represent the in vitro gold standard model for xenobiotic metabolism and toxicity studies. The large use of human liver cell lines either from tumoral origin or obtained by oncogenic immortalisation is prevented by the loss of various liver-specific functions, especially many cytochrome P450 (CYP)-related enzyme activities. We review here recent results obtained with a new human hepatoma cell line, named HepaRG, derived from a human hepatocellular carcinoma. These cells exhibit unique features: when seeded at low density they acquire an elongated undifferentiated morphology, actively divided and after having reached confluency formed typical hepatocyte-like colonies surrounded by biliary epithelial-like cells. Moreover contrary to other human hepatoma cell lines including HepG2 cells, HepaRG cells express various CYPs (CYP1A2, 2B6, 2C9, 2E1, 3A4) and the nuclear receptors constitutive androstane receptor (CAR) and pregnane X receptor (PXR) at levels comparable to those found in cultured primary human hepatocytes. They also express various other functions such phase 2 enzymes, apical and canalicular ABC transporters and basolateral solute carrier transporters, albumin, haptoglobin as well as aldolase B that is a specific marker of adult hepatocytes. HepaRG cells could represent a surrogate to primary human hepatocytes for xenobiotic metabolism and toxicity studies and even more, a unique model system for analysing genotoxic compounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aflatoxin B1 / poisoning
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / enzymology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Constitutive Androstane Receptor
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Female
  • Hepatocytes / cytology
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inhibitory Concentration 50
  • Liver Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Liver Neoplasms / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Metabolic Detoxication, Phase I
  • Metabolic Detoxication, Phase II
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pregnane X Receptor
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / genetics
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism
  • Receptors, Steroid / genetics
  • Receptors, Steroid / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Xenobiotics / toxicity*


  • Biomarkers
  • Constitutive Androstane Receptor
  • Pregnane X Receptor
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Receptors, Steroid
  • Transcription Factors
  • Xenobiotics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Aflatoxin B1