Micropatterned primary hepatocyte co-culture (HEPATOPAC) for fatty liver disease modeling and drug screening

Sci Rep. 2023 Sep 22;13(1):15837. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-42785-9.


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a highly prevalent, progressive disorder and growing public health concern. To address this issue considerable research has been undertaken in pursuit of new NAFLD therapeutics. Development of effective, high-throughput in vitro models is an important aspect of drug discovery. Here, a micropatterned hepatocyte co-culture (MPCC) was used to model liver steatosis. The MPCC model (HEPATOPACTM) is comprised of hepatocytes and 3T3-J2 mouse stromal cells plated onto a patterned standard 96-well or 24-well plate, allowing the cultures to be handled and imaged in a standardized multi-well format. These studies employed high content imaging (HCI) analysis to assess lipid content in cultures. HCI analysis of lipid accumulation allows large numbers of samples to be imaged and analyzed in a relatively short period of time compared to manual acquisition and analysis methods. Treatment of MPCC with free fatty acids (FFA), high glucose and fructose (HGF), or a combination of both induces hepatic steatosis. MPCC treatment with ACC1/ACC2 inhibitors, as either a preventative or reversal agent, showed efficacy against FFA induced hepatic steatosis. Drug induced steatosis was also evaluated. Treatment with valproic acid showed steatosis induction in a lean background, which was significantly potentiated in a fatty liver background. Additionally, these media treatments changed expression of fatty liver related genes. Treatment of MPCC with FFA, HGF, or a combination reversibly altered expression of genes involved in fatty acid metabolism, insulin signaling, and lipid transport. Together, these data demonstrate that MPCC is an easy to use, long-term functional in vitro model of NAFLD having utility for compound screening, drug toxicity evaluation, and assessment of gene regulation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Fructose
  • Hepatocytes
  • Mice
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / drug therapy


  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Fructose