Metabolomics profiling of steatosis progression in HepaRG ® cells using sodium valproate

Toxicol Lett. 2018 Apr;286:22-30. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2017.12.015. Epub 2018 Jan 31.


Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is a frequently encountered Drug-Induced Liver Injury (DILI). Although this stage of the disease is reversible, it can lead to irreversible damage provoked by non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), fibrosis and cirrhosis. Therefore, the assessment of NAFLD is a paramount objective in toxicological screenings of new drug candidates. In this study, a metabolomic fingerprint of NAFLD induced in HepaRG® cells at four dosing schemes by a reference toxicant, sodium valproate (NaVPA), was obtained using liquid-liquid extraction followed by liquid chromatography and accurate mass-mass spectrometry (LC-AM/MS). The combination of a strict design of experiment with a robust detection method, applied on sodium valproate, validated the possibilities of untargeted metabolomics in hepatic toxicological research. Distinctive patterns between exposed and control cells were consistently observed, multivariate analyses selected up to 200 features of interest, revealing hallmark NAFLD-biomarkers, such as diacylglycerol and triglyceride accumulation and carnitine deficiency. Initial toxic responses show increased levels of S-adenosylmethionine and mono-acetylspermidine in combination with only a moderate increase in triglycerides. New specific markers of toxicity have been observed, such as spermidines, creatine, and acetylcholine. The described design of experiment provides a valuable metabolomics platform for mechanistic research of toxicological hazards and identified new markers for steatotic progression.

Keywords: HepaRG; In vitro; Liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry; Metabolomics; Steatosis; Valproic acid.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / etiology*
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / metabolism
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / pathology
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Disease Progression
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Metabolomics / methods*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / chemically induced*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / metabolism
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / pathology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Valproic Acid / toxicity*


  • Biomarkers
  • Valproic Acid