Human Upcyte Hepatocytes: Characterization of the Hepatic Phenotype and Evaluation for Acute and Long-Term Hepatotoxicity Routine Testing

Toxicol Sci. 2016 Jul;152(1):214-29. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfw078. Epub 2016 May 4.


The capacity of human hepatic cell-based models to predict hepatotoxicity depends on the functional performance of cells. The major limitations of human hepatocytes include the scarce availability and rapid loss of the hepatic phenotype. Hepatoma cells are readily available and easy to handle, but are metabolically poor compared with hepatocytes. Recently developed human upcyte hepatocytes offer the advantage of combining many features of primary hepatocytes with the unlimited availability of hepatoma cells. We analyzed the phenotype of upcyte hepatocytes comparatively with HepG2 cells and adult primary human hepatocytes to characterize their functional features as a differentiated hepatic cell model. The transcriptomic analysis of liver characteristic genes confirmed that the upcyte hepatocytes expression profile comes closer to human hepatocytes than HepG2 cells. CYP activities were measurable and showed a similar response to prototypical CYP inducers than primary human hepatocytes. Upcyte hepatocytes also retained conjugating activities and key hepatic functions, e.g. albumin, urea, lipid and glycogen synthesis, at levels close to hepatocytes. We also investigated the suitability of this cell model for preclinical hepatotoxicity risk assessments using multiparametric high-content screening, as well as transcriptomics and targeted metabolomic analysis. Compounds with well-documented in vivo hepatotoxicity were screened after acute and repeated doses up to 1 week. The evaluation of complex mechanisms of cell toxicity, drug-induced steatosis and oxidative stress biomarkers demonstrated that, by combining the phenotype of primary human hepatocytes and the ease of handling of HepG2 cells, upcyte hepatocytes offer suitable properties to be potentially used for toxicological assessments during drug development.

Keywords: HepG2 cells; acute and long-term toxicity; conjugating enzymes; cytochrome P450; hepatocytes; steatosis; transcriptomics; upcyte hepatocytes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / etiology*
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / genetics
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / metabolism
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / pathology
  • Child
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects*
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Hepatocytes / pathology
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Isoenzymes
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Phenotype
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • Risk Assessment
  • Time Factors
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*
  • Transcriptome / drug effects
  • Transfection


  • Isoenzymes
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System