Pooled human liver preparations, HepaRG, or HepG2 cell lines for metabolism studies of new psychoactive substances? A study using MDMA, MDBD, butylone, MDPPP, MDPV, MDPB, 5-MAPB, and 5-API as examples

J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2017 Sep 5;143:32-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jpba.2017.05.028. Epub 2017 May 18.


Metabolism studies play an important role in clinical and forensic toxicology. Because of potential species differences in metabolism, human samples are best suitable for elucidating metabolism. However, in the case of new psychoactive substances (NPS), human samples of controlled studies are not available. Primary human hepatocytes have been described as gold standard for in vitro metabolism studies, but there are some disadvantages such as high costs, limited availability, and variability of metabolic enzymes. Therefore, the aim of our study was to investigate and compare the metabolism of six methylenedioxy derivatives (MDMA, MDBD, butylone, MDPPP, MDPV, MDPB) and two bioisosteric analogues (5-MAPB, 5-API) using pooled human liver microsomes (pHLM) combined with cytosol (pHLC) or pooled human liver S9 fraction (pS9) all after addition of co-substrates for six phase I and II reactions. In addition, HepaRG and HepG2 cell lines were used. Results of the different in vitro tools were compared to each other, to corresponding published data, and to metabolites identified in human urine after consumption of MDMA, MDPV, or 5-MAPB. Incubations with pHLM plus pHLC showed similar results as pS9. A more cost efficient model for prediction of targets for toxicological screening procedures in human urine should be identified. As expected, the incubations with HepaRG provided better results than those with HepG2 concerning number and signal abundance of the metabolites. Due to easy handling without special equipment, incubations with pooled liver preparations should be the most suitable alternative to find targets for toxicological screening procedures for methylenedioxy derivatives and bioisosteric analogues.

Keywords: HepG2; HepaRG; Human liver preparation; LC-HR-MS/MS; Metabolism; Methylenedioxy NPS.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Humans
  • Liver*
  • Microsomes, Liver
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine
  • Piperidines


  • Piperidines
  • 2-methyl-1,1-diphenyl-3-(1-piperidinyl)-1-propanol
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine