Quantitative Expression of Hepatobiliary Transporters and Functional Uptake of Substrates in Hepatic Two-Dimensional Sandwich Cultures: A Comparative Evaluation of Upcyte and Primary Human Hepatocytes

Drug Metab Dispos. 2018 Feb;46(2):166-177. doi: 10.1124/dmd.117.078238. Epub 2017 Dec 6.


Deficient functional expression of drug transporters incapacitates most hepatic cell lines as a reliable tool for evaluating transporter-mediated drug-drug interactions. Recently, genetically modified cells (referred to as upcyte hepatocytes) have emerged as an expandable, noncancerous source of human hepatic cells. Herein, we quantified mRNA and protein levels of key hepatobiliary transporters and we assessed associated uptake activity in short- and long-term cultures of upcyte human hepatocytes (UHH) in comparison to cryopreserved primary human hepatocytes (cPHH). Expression of canalicular efflux pumps, such as MRD1/ABCB1, MATE1/SLC47A1, and MRP2/ABCC2, was relatively well preserved in UHH. By contrast, long-term cultivation of UHH in a two-dimensional sandwich configuration [sandwich-cultured upcyte human hepatocytes (SCUHH)] was required to upregulate organic anion-transporting polypeptide OATP1B1/SLCO1B1, OATP2B1/SLCO2B1, NTCP/SLC10A1, and OCT1/SLC22A1 mRNA expression, which correlated well with respective protein abundances. However, mRNA and protein levels of sinusoidal solute carrier transporters, except for NTCP and OATP2B1, remained low in SCUHH compared to sandwich-cultured cPHH. OCT1- and NTCP-mediated uptake of N-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium acetate and taurocholate was demonstrated in both hepatic models, whereas active uptake of OATP1B1/1B3-selective marker substrates, paralleled by markedly reduced SLCO1B1/1B3 expression, were not detectable in SCUHH. Uptake studies under Na+-depletion and excess of taurocholate confirmed the presence of functional NTCP protein and indicated that NTCP, apart from OATP2B1, contributed substantially to the overall hepatic uptake of rosuvastatin in SCUHH. In conclusion, our data suggest that SCUHH, despite their limitation for evaluating OATP1B1/1B3-mediated transport processes, retain NTCP, OATP2B1, and OCT1 transport activities and thus may be considered as a tool for elucidating compensatory uptake pathways for OATP1B1/1B3 substrates.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biological Transport / physiology*
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods
  • Drug Interactions / physiology
  • Female
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Protein 2
  • Organic Anion Transporters / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism


  • ABCC2 protein, human
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Protein 2
  • Organic Anion Transporters
  • RNA, Messenger