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Toxicol In Vitro. 2007 Dec;21(8):1592-602. Epub 2007 Jul 18.

Phase II enzyme levels in HepG2 cells and cryopreserved primary human hepatocytes and their induction in HepG2 cells.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, NV Organon, Molenstraat 110, 5340 BH Oss, The Netherlands.


The HepG2 cell line is a valuable tool for screening for cytotoxicity in the early phase of pharmaceutical development. Some compounds which produce reactive and toxic metabolites, are classified as being toxic in HepG2 cells. In contrast, other compounds, which are toxic in primary human hepatocytes, are not toxic in HepG2 cells. A difference in metabolism between HepG2 cells and primary human hepatocytes might be the reason. To investigate this, cytochrome P450 and Phase II enzyme levels were characterized. In the present study the focus is on Phase II enzyme metabolism. Transcript levels of UDP-glucuronosyl transferases (UGTs), sulfotransferases (SULTs), glutathione S-transferases (GSTs), N-acetyltransferase-1 (NAT1) and epoxide hydrolase (EPHX1) were measured with quantitative PCR in HepG2 cells and cryopreserved primary human hepatocytes. Levels of SULT1A1, 1A2, 1E1, 1A2, and 2A1, microsomal GST 1, GST mu1, NAT1, and EPHX1 in HepG2 cells were almost similar to levels in primary human hepatocytes. In contrast, levels of UGT1A1 and 1A6 transcripts were between 10- and more than 1000-fold higher in the primary hepatocytes. The regulatory processes of Phase II enzymes by the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, pregnane X receptor and constitutive androstane receptor were studied in HepG2 cells and appeared quite similar to those in primary human hepatocytes. Due to the involvement of Phase II enzymes in the toxication of some compounds, HepG2 cells can be a valuable cellular system to predict toxicity for these compounds. On the other hand, the normal expression of most Phase II enzymes in combination with the lower expression of cytochrome P450 enzymes in HepG2 cells might result in an underestimation of toxicity for several compounds. Compared to primary human hepatocytes, HepG2 cells are a relatively easy-to-handle tool to study the up-regulation of Phase II enzymes.

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