Pharmacokinetics explain in vivo/in vitro discrepancies of carcinogen-induced gene expression alterations in rat liver and cultivated hepatocytes

Arch Toxicol. 2013 Feb;87(2):337-45. doi: 10.1007/s00204-012-0999-8. Epub 2012 Dec 29.


Cultivated hepatocytes represent a well-established in vitro system. However, the applicability of hepatocytes in toxicogenomics is still controversially discussed. Recently, an in vivo/in vitro discrepancy has been described, whereby the non-genotoxic rat liver carcinogen methapyrilene alters the expression of the metabolizing genes SULT1A1 and ABAT, as well as the DNA damage response gene GADD34 in vitro, but not in vivo. If the collagen sandwich cultures of hepatocytes really produce false-positive data, this would compromise its application in toxicogenomics. To revisit the putative in vivo/in vitro discrepancy, we first analyzed and modeled methapyrilene concentrations in the portal vein of rats. The relatively short half-life of 2.8 h implies a rapid decrease in orally administered methapyrilene in vivo below concentrations that can cause gene expression alterations. This corresponded to the time-dependent alteration levels of GADD34, ABAT and SULT1A1 RNA in the liver: RNA levels are altered 1, 6 and 12 h after methapyrilene administration, but return to control levels after 24 and 72 h. In contrast, methapyrilene concentrations in the culture medium supernatant of primary rat hepatocyte cultures decreased slowly. This explains why GADD34, ABAT and SULT1A1 were still deregulated after 24 h exposure in vitro, but not in vivo. It should also be considered that the earliest analyzed time point in the previous in vivo studies was 24 h after methapyrilene administration. In conclusion, previously observed in vitro/in vivo discrepancy can be explained by different pharmacokinetics present in vitro and in vivo. When the in vivo half-life is short, levels of some initially altered genes may have returned to control levels already 24 h after administration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 4-Aminobutyrate Transaminase / genetics
  • Animals
  • Antigens, Differentiation / genetics
  • Arylsulfotransferase / genetics
  • Carcinogens / pharmacokinetics*
  • Carcinogens / toxicity
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects*
  • Half-Life
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects*
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Methapyrilene / pharmacokinetics*
  • Methapyrilene / toxicity
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar


  • Antigens, Differentiation
  • Carcinogens
  • Ppp1r15a protein, rat
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Methapyrilene
  • 4-Aminobutyrate Transaminase
  • Arylsulfotransferase
  • Sult1a1 protein, rat