Evaluation of HepaRG cells for the assessment of indirect drug-induced hepatotoxicity using INH as a model substance

Hum Cell. 2017 Oct;30(4):267-278. doi: 10.1007/s13577-017-0175-9. Epub 2017 May 19.


HepaRG cells are widely used as an in vitro model to assess drug-induced hepatotoxicity. However, only few studies exist so far regarding their suitability to detect the effects of drugs requiring a preceding activation via the cytochrome P450 (CYP) system. A prototypic substance is the anti-tuberculosis agent INH, which is metabolized into N-acetylhydrazine, which then triggers hepatotoxicity. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to test if this effect can also be detected in HepaRG cells and if it can be counteracted by the known hepatoprotectant silibinin. For this purpose, differentiated HepaRG cells were treated with increasing concentrations of INH (0.1-100 mM) or 10 mM INH plus escalating concentrations of silibinin (1-100 µM). After 48 h of treatment, cell morphology and parameters indicating cell vitality, oxidative stress, and liver cell function were assessed. High concentrations of INH led to severe histopathological changes, reduced cell vitality and glutathione content, increased LDH and ASAT release into the medium, enhanced lipid peroxidation, and elevated cleaved caspase-3 expression. Additionally, glycogen depletion and reduced biotransformation capacity were seen at high INH concentrations, whereas at low concentrations an induction of biotransformation enzymes was noticed. Silibinin caused clear-cut protective effects, but with few parameters INH toxicity was even aggravated, most probably due to increased metabolization of INH into its toxic metabolite. In conclusion, HepaRG cells are excellently suited to evaluate the effects of substances requiring prior toxification via the CYP system, such as INH. They additionally enable the identification of complex substance interactions.

Keywords: Cytochrome P450; HepaRG cells; Hepatotoxicity; INH; Oxidative stress; Silibinin.

MeSH terms

  • Antitubercular Agents / toxicity*
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases / metabolism
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Isoniazid / toxicity*
  • Lactate Dehydrogenases / metabolism
  • Liver / cytology
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Silybin
  • Silymarin / pharmacology


  • Antitubercular Agents
  • Silymarin
  • Silybin
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Lactate Dehydrogenases
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases
  • Caspase 3
  • Glutathione
  • Isoniazid