Characterization of chemical-induced sterile inflammation in vitro: application of the model compound ketoconazole in a human hepatic co-culture system

Arch Toxicol. 2017 Feb;91(2):799-810. doi: 10.1007/s00204-016-1686-y. Epub 2016 Mar 10.


Liver injury as a result of a sterile inflammation is closely linked to the activation of immune cells, including macrophages, by damaged hepatocytes. This interaction between immune cells and hepatocytes is as yet not considered in any of the in vitro test systems applied during the generation of new drugs. Here, we established and characterized a novel in vitro co-culture model with two human cell lines, HepG2 and differentiated THP-1. Ketoconazole, an antifungal drug known for its hepatotoxicity, was used as a model compound in the testing of the co-culture. Single cultures of HepG2 and THP-1 cells were studied as controls. Different metabolism patterns of ketoconazole were observed for the single and co-culture incubations as well as for the different cell types. The main metabolite N-deacetyl ketoconazole was found in cell pellets, but not in supernatants of cell cultures. Global proteome analysis showed that the NRF2-mediated stress response and the CXCL8 (IL-8) pathway were induced by ketoconazole treatment under co-culture conditions. The upregulation and ketoconazole-induced secretion of several pro-inflammatory cytokines, including CXCL8, TNF-α and CCL3, was observed in the co-culture system only, but not in single cell cultures. Taking together, we provide evidence that the co-culture model applied might be suitable to serve as tool for the prediction of chemical-induced sterile inflammation in liver tissue in vivo.

Keywords: CXCL8; HepG2; Metabolism; NFκB; NRF2; ROS; THP-1.

MeSH terms

  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / metabolism
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / pathology*
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Hep G2 Cells / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-8 / metabolism
  • Ketoconazole / adverse effects*
  • Ketoconazole / analogs & derivatives
  • Ketoconazole / metabolism
  • Ketoconazole / pharmacokinetics
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Proteins / analysis
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism


  • CXCL8 protein, human
  • Interleukin-8
  • NF-kappa B
  • Proteins
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • deacylketoconazole
  • Ketoconazole