Multiparametric assessment of mitochondrial respiratory inhibition in HepG2 and RPTEC/TERT1 cells using a panel of mitochondrial targeting agrochemicals

Arch Toxicol. 2020 Aug;94(8):2707-2729. doi: 10.1007/s00204-020-02792-5. Epub 2020 Jul 18.


Evidence is mounting for the central role of mitochondrial dysfunction in several pathologies including metabolic diseases, accelerated ageing, neurodegenerative diseases and in certain xenobiotic-induced organ toxicity. Assessing mitochondrial perturbations is not trivial and the outcomes of such investigations are dependent on the cell types used and assays employed. Here we systematically investigated the effect of electron transport chain (ETC) inhibitors on multiple mitochondrial-related parameters in two human cell types, HepG2 and RPTEC/TERT1. Cells were exposed to a broad range of concentrations of 20 ETC-inhibiting agrochemicals and capsaicin, consisting of inhibitors of NADH dehydrogenase (Complex I, CI), succinate dehydrogenase (Complex II, CII) and cytochrome bc1 complex (Complex III, CIII). A battery of tests was utilised, including viability assays, lactate production, mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) and the Seahorse bioanalyser, which simultaneously measures extracellular acidification rate [ECAR] and oxygen consumption rate [OCR]. CI inhibitors caused a potent decrease in OCR, decreased mitochondrial membrane potential, increased ECAR and increased lactate production in both cell types. Twenty-fourhour exposure to CI inhibitors decreased viability of RPTEC/TERT1 cells and 3D spheroid-cultured HepG2 cells in the presence of glucose. CI inhibitors decreased 2D HepG2 viability only in the absence of glucose. CII inhibitors had no notable effects in intact cells up to 10 µM. CIII inhibitors had similar effects to the CI inhibitors. Antimycin A was the most potent CIII inhibitor, with activity in the nanomolar range. The proposed CIII inhibitor cyazofamid demonstrated a mitochondrial uncoupling signal in both cell types. The study presents a comprehensive example of a mitochondrial assessment workflow and establishes measurable key events of ETC inhibition.

Keywords: ECAR; ETC; HepG2; MMP; Mitochondria; RPTEC/TERT1; Seahorse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agrochemicals / toxicity*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Electron Transport Chain Complex Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Electron Transport Chain Complex Proteins / metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects*
  • Hepatocytes / enzymology
  • Hepatocytes / pathology
  • Humans
  • Kidney Tubules, Proximal / drug effects*
  • Kidney Tubules, Proximal / enzymology
  • Kidney Tubules, Proximal / pathology
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Mitochondria, Liver / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria, Liver / enzymology
  • Mitochondria, Liver / pathology
  • Oxygen Consumption / drug effects
  • Uncoupling Agents / toxicity*


  • Agrochemicals
  • Electron Transport Chain Complex Proteins
  • Uncoupling Agents