Methotrexate-Induced Liver Injury Is Associated with Oxidative Stress, Impaired Mitochondrial Respiration, and Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress In Vitro

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Dec 1;23(23):15116. doi: 10.3390/ijms232315116.


Low-dose methotrexate (MTX) is a standard therapy for rheumatoid arthritis due to its low cost and efficacy. Despite these benefits, MTX has been reported to cause chronic drug-induced liver injury, namely liver fibrosis. The hallmark of liver fibrosis is excessive scarring of liver tissue, triggered by hepatocellular injury and subsequent activation of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). However, little is known about the precise mechanisms through which MTX causes hepatocellular damage and activates HSCs. Here, we investigated the mechanisms leading to hepatocyte injury in HepaRG and used immortalized stellate cells (hTERT-HSC) to elucidate the mechanisms leading to HSC activation by exposing mono- and co-cultures of HepaRG and hTERT-HSC to MTX. The results showed that at least two mechanisms are involved in MTX-induced toxicity in HepaRG: (i) oxidative stress through depletion of glutathione (GSH) and (ii) impairment of cellular respiration in a GSH-independent manner. Furthermore, we measured increased levels of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress in activated HSC following MTX treatment. In conclusion, we established a human-relevant in vitro model to gain mechanistical insights into MTX-induced hepatotoxicity, linked oxidative stress in HepaRG to a GSH-dependent and -independent pathway, and hypothesize that not only oxidative stress in hepatocytes but also ER stress in HSCs contribute to MTX-induced activation of HSCs.

Keywords: ER stress; HepaRG; in vitro model; liver fibrosis; methotrexate; mitochondria; oxidative stress; stellate cells.

MeSH terms

  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury* / metabolism
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury, Chronic* / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver Cirrhosis / metabolism
  • Methotrexate / metabolism
  • Methotrexate / toxicity
  • Oxidative Stress


  • Methotrexate
  • Glutathione