HepaRG cells: a human model to study mechanisms of acetaminophen hepatotoxicity

Hepatology. 2011 Mar;53(3):974-82. doi: 10.1002/hep.24132. Epub 2011 Feb 11.


Acetaminophen (APAP) overdose is the leading cause of acute liver failure in Western countries. In the last four decades much progress has been made in our understanding of APAP-induced liver injury through rodent studies. However, some differences exist in the time course of injury between rodents and humans. To study the mechanism of APAP hepatotoxicity in humans, a human-relevant in vitro system is needed. Here we present evidence that the cell line HepaRG is a useful human model for the study of APAP-induced liver injury. Exposure of HepaRG cells to APAP at several concentrations resulted in glutathione depletion, APAP-protein adduct formation, mitochondrial oxidant stress and peroxynitrite formation, mitochondrial dysfunction (assessed by JC-1 fluorescence), and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release. Importantly, the time course of LDH release resembled the increase in plasma aminotransferase activity seen in humans following APAP overdose. Based on propidium iodide uptake and cell morphology, the majority of the injury occurred within clusters of hepatocyte-like cells. The progression of injury in these cells involved mitochondrial reactive oxygen and reactive nitrogen formation. APAP did not increase caspase activity above untreated control values and a pancaspase inhibitor did not protect against APAP-induced cell injury.

Conclusion: These data suggest that key mechanistic features of APAP-induced cell death are the same in human HepaRG cells, rodent in vivo models, and primary cultured mouse hepatocytes. Thus, HepaRG cells are a useful model to study mechanisms of APAP hepatotoxicity in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / metabolism
  • Acetaminophen / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury* / metabolism
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury* / pathology
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Female
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Necrosis
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species


  • Reactive Nitrogen Species
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Acetaminophen
  • Glutathione
  • Cysteine