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Aquat Toxicol. 2009 Sep 14;94(3):195-203. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2009.07.006. Epub 2009 Jul 16.

Evaluation of a carp primary hepatocyte culture system for screening chemicals for oestrogenic activity.

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  • 1School of Biosciences, University of Exeter, Hatherly Laboratories, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter, Devon, EX4 4PS, United Kingdom.


The presence of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the environment has driven the development of screening and testing assays to both identify chemicals with hormonal activity and evaluate their potential to cause adverse effects. As the number of animals used for research and regulatory purposes rises, and set against a desire to reduce animal testing, there is increased emphasis on the development and application of in vitro techniques to evaluate chemical risks to the environment. Induction of vitellogenin (VTG) in isolated fish liver cells has been used successfully to identify a wide range of EDCs, including both natural and synthetic oestrogens and a variety of other xenoestrogens. However, the vitellogenic response reported for hepatocytes in culture has been shown to vary widely, making comparisons between studies difficult. The work presented in this paper explored the variability of the vitellogenic response in primary cultures of common carp (Cyprinus carpio) hepatocytes following exposure to the model oestrogenic compound, 17beta-oestradiol (E2). As expected, variability in the vitellogenic response was observed, both in terms of the sensitivity and magnitude of VTG induction, for hepatocytes isolated from different fish. An apparent difference was observed in the response of isolated hepatocytes based on the sex of the donor fish; maximum levels of E2-stimulated VTG synthesis in hepatocytes derived from females appeared higher (1962 ng mL(-1)+/-487 [n=9] compared with 1194 ng mL(-1)+/-223 for hepatocytes from males [n=9]) and EC(50) values lower (1.61+/-0.4 microM E2 for females and 2.12+/-0.2 microM E2 for males). However, these differences were not statistically significant, likely in part due to the variation observed in the vitellogenic response. In particular, hepatocytes derived from female fish showed more variation than their male counterparts (the co-efficient of variation for females was 77% compared to 28% for males). Despite the variation observed in the vitellogenic response between different cultures, data from the different donor fish could be compared by standardising responses relative to the maximum VTG induction in each culture following exposure to E2. Adopting this approach in the future will allow for data from different hepatocyte cultures and from donor fish of different sexes, age and stage of maturity to be compared with greater consistency. Measurement of vtg mRNA expression was relatively more sensitive to the oestrogenic effects of E2 exposure than measurement of VTG protein (the LOEC at the transcriptome level was 10-fold lower [0.01 microM E2] than at the protein level [0.1 microM E2]) and changes in vtg mRNA expression showed less variation between individual hepatocyte isolations. Measurement of vtg mRNA in the hepatocyte culture system therefore may offer the most sensitive and consistent option for the screening of chemicals with oestrogenic activity in fish primary hepatocyte cultures.

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