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Toxicol Sci. 2012 Jun;127(2):403-11. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfs122. Epub 2012 Mar 27.

Determination of drug toxicity using 3D spheroids constructed from an immortal human hepatocyte cell line.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Southern Denmark, DK-5230 Odense M, Denmark.


Numerous publications have documented that the immortal cells grown in three-dimensional (3D) cultures possess physiological behavior, which is more reminiscent of their parental organ than when the same cells are cultivated using classical two-dimensional (2D) culture techniques. The goal of this study was to investigate whether this observation could be extended to the determination of LD(50) values and whether 3D data could be correlated to in vivo observations. We developed a noninvasive means to estimate the amount of protein present in a 3D spheroid from it is planar area (± 21%) so that a precise dose can be provided in a manner similar to in vivo studies. This avoided correction of the actual dose given based on a protein determination after treatment (when some cells may have lysed). Conversion of published in vitro LC(50) data (mM) for six common drugs (acetaminophen, amiodarone, diclofenac, metformin, phenformin, and valproic acid) to LD(50) data (mg compound/mg cellular protein) showed that the variation in LD(50) values was generally less than that suggested by the original LC(50) data. Toxicological analysis of these six compounds in 3D spheroid culture (either published or presented here) demonstrated similar LD(50) values. Although in vitro 2D HepG2 data showed a poor correlation, the primary hepatocyte and 3D spheroid data resulted in a much higher degree of correlation with in vivo lethal blood plasma levels. These results corroborate that 3D hepatocyte cultures are significantly different from 2D cultures and are more representative of the liver in vivo.

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