Evaluation of an in vitro three-dimensional HepaRG spheroid model for genotoxicity testing using the high-throughput CometChip platform

ALTEX. 2022;39(4):583-604. doi: 10.14573/altex.2201121. Epub 2022 Mar 18.


Three-dimensional (3D) culture systems are increasingly being used for genotoxicity studies due to improved cell-to-cell interactions and tissue-like structures that are limited or lacking in 2D cultures. The present study optimized a 3D culture system using metabolically competent HepaRG cells for in vitro genotoxicity testing. 3D HepaRG spheroids, formed in 96- or 384-well ultra-low attachment plates, were exposed to various concentrations of 34 test articles, including 8 direct-acting and 11 indirect-acting genotoxicants/carcinogens as well as 15 compounds that show different genotoxic responses in vitro and in vivo. DNA damage was evaluated using the high-throughput CometChip assay with con-current cytotoxicity assessment by the ATP assay in both 2D and 3D cultures. 3D HepaRG spheroids maintained a stable phenotype for up to 30 days with higher levels of albumin secretion, cytochrome P450 gene expression, and enzyme activities compared to 2D cultures. 3D spheroids also demonstrated a higher sensitivity than 2D cultures for detecting both direct- and indirect-acting genotoxicants/carcinogens, indicating a better prediction of in vivo genotoxicity responses. When DNA damage dose-response data were quantified using PROAST software, 3D spheroids generally had lower or similar benchmark dose values compared to 2D HepaRG cells and were more comparable with primary human hepatocytes. These results demonstrate that 3D models can be adapted to the CometChip technology for high-throughput genotoxicity testing and that 3D HepaRG spheroids may be used as a reliable and pragmatic in vitro approach to better support the hazard identification and risk assessment of potential human genotoxic carcinogens.

Keywords: HepaRg 3D spheroid; benchmark dose; comet assay; genotoxicity; high-throughput.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Testing Alternatives*
  • Animals
  • Carcinogens
  • Hepatocytes
  • Humans
  • Mutagenicity Tests
  • Spheroids, Cellular*


  • Carcinogens