Transcriptional, Functional, and Mechanistic Comparisons of Stem Cell-Derived Hepatocytes, HepaRG Cells, and Three-Dimensional Human Hepatocyte Spheroids as Predictive In Vitro Systems for Drug-Induced Liver Injury

Drug Metab Dispos. 2017 Apr;45(4):419-429. doi: 10.1124/dmd.116.074369. Epub 2017 Jan 30.


Reliable and versatile hepatic in vitro systems for the prediction of drug pharmacokinetics and toxicity are essential constituents of preclinical safety assessment pipelines for new medicines. Here, we compared three emerging cell systems-hepatocytes derived from induced pluripotent stem cells, HepaRG cells, and three-dimensional primary human hepatocyte (PHH) spheroids-at transcriptional and functional levels in a multicenter study to evaluate their potential as predictive models for drug-induced hepatotoxicity. Transcriptomic analyses revealed widespread gene expression differences between the three cell models, with 8148 of 17,462 analyzed genes (47%) being differentially expressed. Expression levels of genes involved in the metabolism of endogenous as well as xenobiotic compounds were significantly elevated in PHH spheroids, whereas genes involved in cell division and endocytosis were significantly upregulated in HepaRG cells and hepatocytes derived from induced pluripotent stem cells, respectively. Consequently, PHH spheroids were more sensitive to a panel of drugs with distinctly different toxicity mechanisms, an effect that was amplified by long-term exposure using repeated treatments. Importantly, toxicogenomic analyses revealed that transcriptomic changes in PHH spheroids were in compliance with cholestatic, carcinogenic, or steatogenic in vivo toxicity mechanisms at clinically relevant drug concentrations. Combined, the data reveal important phenotypic differences between the three cell systems and suggest that PHH spheroids can be used for functional investigations of drug-induced liver injury in vivo in humans.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods*
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / economics
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / epidemiology
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / etiology
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Inhibitory Concentration 50
  • Models, Biological*
  • Spheroids, Cellular / drug effects
  • Spheroids, Cellular / metabolism*
  • Xenobiotics / metabolism
  • Xenobiotics / toxicity*


  • Xenobiotics