Scalable Spheroid Model of Human Hepatocytes for Hepatitis C Infection and Replication

Mol Pharm. 2014 Jul 7;11(7):2106-14. doi: 10.1021/mp500063y. Epub 2014 May 6.


Developing effective new drugs against hepatitis C (HCV) virus has been challenging due to the lack of appropriate small animal and in vitro models recapitulating the entire life cycle of the virus. Current in vitro models fail to recapitulate the complexity of human liver physiology. Here we present a method to study HCV infection and replication on spheroid cultures of Huh 7.5 cells and primary human hepatocytes. Spheroid cultures are constructed using a galactosylated cellulosic sponge with homogeneous macroporosity, enabling the formation and maintenance of uniformly sized spheroids. This facilitates easy handling of the tissue-engineered constructs and overcomes limitations inherent of traditional spheroid cultures. Spheroids formed in the galactosylated cellulosic sponge show enhanced hepatic functions in Huh 7.5 cells and maintain liver-specific functions of primary human hepatocytes for 2 weeks in culture. Establishment of apical and basolateral polarity along with the expression and localization of all HCV specific entry proteins allow for a 9-fold increase in viral entry in spheroid cultures over conventional monolayer cultures. Huh 7.5 cells cultured in the galactosylated cellulosic sponge also support replication of the HCV clone, JFH (Japanese fulminant hepatitis)-1 at higher levels than in monolayer cultures. The advantages of our system in maintaining liver-specific functions and allowing HCV infection together with its ease of handling make it suitable for the study of HCV biology in basic research and pharmaceutical R&D.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biocompatible Materials / metabolism
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cellulose / metabolism
  • Galactose / metabolism
  • Hepacivirus / genetics*
  • Hepatitis C / metabolism
  • Hepatitis C / virology*
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Hepatocytes / virology*
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / virology
  • Spheroids, Cellular / metabolism
  • Spheroids, Cellular / virology*
  • Tissue Engineering / methods*
  • Virus Replication / genetics*


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Cellulose
  • Galactose