Impairment of hepatic fatty acid metabolism can lead to liver steatosis and injury. Testing drugs for interference with hepatic fatty acid metabolism is therefore important. To find out whether HepG2 cells are suitable for this purpose, we investigated the effect of three established fatty acid metabolism inhibitors and of three test compounds on triglyceride accumulation, palmitate metabolism, the acylcarnitine pool and dicarboxylic acid accumulation in the cell supernatant and on ApoB-100 excretion in HepG2 cells. The three established inhibitors [etomoxir, methylenecyclopropylacetic acid (MCPA), and 4-bromocrotonic acid (4-BCA)] depleted mitochondrial ATP at lower concentrations than cytotoxicity occurred, suggesting mitochondrial toxicity. They inhibited palmitate metabolism at similar or lower concentrations than ATP depletion, and 4-BCA was associated with cellular fat accumulation. They caused specific changes in the acylcarnitine pattern and etomoxir an increase of thapsic (C18 dicarboxylic) acid in the cell supernatant, and did not interfere with ApoB-100 excretion (marker of VLDL export). The three test compounds (amiodarone, tamoxifen, and the cannabinoid WIN 55,212-2) depleted the cellular ATP content at lower concentrations than cytotoxicity occurred. They all caused cellular fat accumulation and inhibited palmitate metabolism at similar or higher concentrations than ATP depletion. They suppressed medium-chain acylcarnitines in the cell supernatant and amiodarone and tamoxifen impaired thapsic acid production. Tamoxifen and WIN 55,212-2 decreased cellular ApoB-100 excretion. In conclusion, the established inhibitors of fatty acid metabolism caused the expected effects in HepG2 cells. HepG cells proved to be useful for the detection of drug-associated toxicities on hepatocellular fatty acid metabolism.
Keywords: ApoB-100; acylcarnitines; biomarkers; dicarboxylic acids; fatty acids; liver steatosis.