Cell lines: a tool for in vitro drug metabolism studies

Curr Drug Metab. 2008 Jan;9(1):1-11. doi: 10.2174/138920008783331086.


Primary cultured hepatocytes are a valuable in vitro model for drug metabolism studies. However, their widespread use is greatly hindered by the scarcity of suitable human liver samples. Moreover, the well-known in vitro phenotypic instability of hepatocytes, the irregular availability of fresh human liver for cell harvesting purposes, and the high batch-to-batch functional variability of hepatocyte preparations obtained from different human liver donors, seriously complicate their use in routine testing. To overcome these limitations, different cell line models have been proposed for drug metabolism screening. Human liver-derived cell lines would be ideal models for this purpose given their availability, unlimited life-span, stable phenotype, and the fact that they are easy to handle. However, the human hepatoma cells currently used (i.e. HepG2, Mz-Hep-1) show negligible levels of drug-metabolizing and do not constitute a real alternative to primary hepatocytes. Different strategies have been proposed to generate metabolically competent immortalized hepatocytes (transformation of human hepatocytes with plasmids encoding immortalizing genes, hepatocyte-like cells derived from stem cells, cell lines generated from transgenic animals, hepatocyte/hepatoma hydrid cells). Moreover, recombinant models heterologously expressing P450 enzymes in different host cells have been developed and successfully used in drug metabolism testing. In addition, new strategies have recently been explored to upregulate the expression of drug-metabolizing enzymes in cell lines of a human origin (i.e. transfection with expression vectors encoding key hepatic transcription factors). Among metabolic-based drug-drug interactions, P450 inhibition seems to be the most important. A major application of recombinant models expressing a single P450 is the screening of potential enzyme inhibitors. Therefore, pharmaceutical companies increasingly make use of cell lines to speed up the selection of new drugs with favourable pharmacokinetic and metabolic properties.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods
  • Cell Line*
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Humans
  • Liver / cytology
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Xenobiotics / metabolism


  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Xenobiotics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System