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J Appl Toxicol. 2012 Sep;32(9):739-49. doi: 10.1002/jat.2768. Epub 2012 Jul 9.

Interactive toxicity of usnic acid and lipopolysaccharides in human liver HepG2 cells.

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Division of Toxicology, Office of Applied Research and Safety Assessment, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U. S. Food and Drug Administration, Laurel, MD 20708, USA.


Usnic acid (UA), a natural botanical product, is a constituent of some dietary supplements used for weight loss. It has been associated with clinical hepatotoxicity leading to liver failure in humans. The present study was undertaken to evaluate the interactive toxicity, if any, of UA with lipopolysaccarides (LPS), a potential contaminant of food, at low non-toxic concentrations. The human hepatoblastoma HepG2 cells were treated with the vehicle control and test agents, separately and in a binary mixture, for 24 h at 37°C in 5% CO2. After the treatment period, the cells were evaluated by the traditional biochemical endpoints of toxicity in combination with the toxicogenomic endpoints that included cytotoxicity, oxidative stress, mitochondrial injury and changes in pathway-focused gene expression profiles. Compared with the controls, low non-toxic concentrations of UA and LPS separately showed no effect on the cells as determined by the biochemical endpoints. However, the simultaneous mixed exposure of the cells to their binary mixture resulted in increased cytotoxicity, oxidative stress and mitochondrial injury. The pathway-focused gene expression analysis resulted in the altered expression of several genes out of 84 genes examined. Most altered gene expressions induced by the binary mixture of UA and LPS were different from those induced by the individual constituents. The genes affected by the mixture were not modulated by either UA or LPS. The results of the present study suggest that the interactions of low nontoxic concentrations of UA and LPS produce toxicity in HepG2 cells.

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