Drug-induced liver injury (DILI) is the major cause for liver failure and post-marketing drug withdrawals. Due to species-specific differences in hepatocellular function, animal experiments to assess potential liabilities of drug candidates can predict hepatotoxicity in humans only to a certain extent. In addition to animal experimentation, primary hepatocytes from rat or human are widely used for pre-clinical safety assessment. However, as many toxic responses in vivo are mediated by a complex interplay among different cell types and often require chronic drug exposures, the predictive performance of hepatocytes is very limited. Here, we established and characterized human and rat in vitro three-dimensional (3D) liver co-culture systems containing primary parenchymal and non-parenchymal hepatic cells. Our data demonstrate that cells cultured on a 3D scaffold have a preserved composition of hepatocytes, stellate, Kupffer and endothelial cells and maintain liver function for up to 3months, as measured by the production of albumin, fibrinogen, transferrin and urea. Additionally, 3D liver co-cultures maintain cytochrome P450 inducibility, form bile canaliculi-like structures and respond to inflammatory stimuli. Upon incubation with selected hepatotoxicants including drugs which have been shown to induce idiosyncratic toxicity, we demonstrated that this model better detected in vivo drug-induced toxicity, including species-specific drug effects, when compared to monolayer hepatocyte cultures. In conclusion, our results underline the importance of more complex and long lasting in vitro cell culture models that contain all liver cell types and allow repeated drug-treatments for detection of in vivo-relevant adverse drug effects.
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