Serum-free medium and mesenchymal stromal cells enhance functionality and stabilize integrity of rat hepatocyte spheroids

Cell Transplant. 2013;22(2):299-308. doi: 10.3727/096368912X656054. Epub 2012 Sep 21.


Long-term culture of hepatocyte spheroids with high ammonia clearance is valuable for therapeutic applications, especially the bioartificial liver. However, the optimal conditions are not well studied. We hypothesized that liver urea cycle enzymes can be induced by high protein diet and maintain on a higher expression level in rat hepatocyte spheroids by serum-free medium (SFM) culture and coculture with mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs). Rats were feed normal protein diet (NPD) or high protein diet (HPD) for 7 days before liver digestion and isolation of hepatocytes. Hepatocyte spheroids were formed and maintained in a rocked suspension culture with or without MSCs in SFM or 10% serum-containing medium (SCM). Spheroid viability, kinetics of spheroid formation, hepatic functions, gene expression, and biochemical activities of rat hepatocyte spheroids were tested over 14 days of culture. We observed that urea cycle enzymes of hepatocyte spheroids can be induced by high protein diet. SFM and MSCs enhanced ammonia clearance and ureagenesis and stabilized integrity of hepatocyte spheroids compared to control conditions over 14 days. Hepatocytes from high protein diet-fed rats formed spheroids and maintained a high level of ammonia detoxification for over 14 days in a novel SFM. Hepatic functionality and spheroid integrity were further stabilized by coculture of hepatocytes with MSCs in the spheroid microenvironment. These findings have direct application to development of the spheroid reservoir bioartificial liver.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Culture Media, Serum-Free
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Hepatocytes / cytology*
  • Hepatocytes / enzymology
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Liver, Artificial*
  • Male
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spheroids, Cellular


  • Culture Media, Serum-Free