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Toxicol Sci. 2010 May;115(1):66-79. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfq026. Epub 2010 Jan 27.

Comparison of HepG2 and HepaRG by whole-genome gene expression analysis for the purpose of chemical hazard identification.

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  • 1Department of Health Risk Analysis and Toxicology, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.


Direct comparison of the hepatoma cell lines HepG2 and HepaRG has previously been performed by only evaluating a limited set of genes or proteins. In this study, we examined the whole-genome gene expression of both cell lines before and after exposure to the genotoxic (GTX) carcinogens aflatoxin B1 and benzo[a]pyrene and the nongenotoxic (NGTX) carcinogens cyclosporin A, 17beta-estradiol, and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin for 12 and 48 h. Before exposure, this analysis revealed an extensive network of genes and pathways, which were regulated differentially for each cell line. The comparison of the basal gene expression between HepG2, HepaRG, primary human hepatocytes (PHH), and liver clearly showed that HepaRG resembles PHH and liver the most. After exposure to the GTX and NGTX carcinogens, for both cell lines, common pathways were found that are important in carcinogenesis, for example, cell cycle regulation and apoptosis. However, also clear differences between exposed HepG2 and HepaRG were observed, and these are related to common metabolic processes, immune response, and transcription processes. Furthermore, HepG2 performs better in discriminating between GTX and NGTX carcinogens. In conclusion, these results have shown that HepaRG is a more suited in vitro liver model for biological interpretations of the effects of exposure to chemicals, whereas HepG2 is a more promising in vitro liver model for classification studies using the toxicogenomics approach. Although, it should be noted that only five carcinogens were used in this study.

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