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J Tissue Eng Regen Med. 2015 Sep;9(9):1017-26. doi: 10.1002/term.1652. Epub 2012 Nov 20.

Serum-free culture of primary human hepatocytes in a miniaturized hollow-fibre membrane bioreactor for pharmacological in vitro studies.

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Bioreactor Group, Division of Experimental Surgery, Berlin Brandenburg Center for Regenerative Therapies (BCRT), Charité Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, Germany.
Pharmacelsus GmbH, Saarbrücken, Germany.
DMPK Innovative Medicines, AstraZeneca R&D, Section of Pharmacogenetics, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Cytonet GmbH & Co KG, Weinheim, Germany.
Department of Traumatology, Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen, Germany.
Departments of Surgery and of Bioengineering, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, USA.


Primary human hepatocytes represent an important cell source for in vitro investigation of hepatic drug metabolism and disposition. In this study, a multi-compartment capillary membrane-based bioreactor technology for three-dimensional (3D) perfusion culture was further developed and miniaturized to a volume of less than 0.5 ml to reduce demand for cells. The miniaturized bioreactor was composed of two capillary layers, each made of alternately arranged oxygen and medium capillaries serving as a 3D culture for the cells. Metabolic activity and stability of primary human hepatocytes was studied in this bioreactor in the presence of 2.5% fetal calf serum (FCS) under serum-free conditions over a culture period of 10 days. The miniaturized bioreactor showed functions comparable to previously reported data for larger variants. Glucose and lactate metabolism, urea production, albumin synthesis and release of intracellular enzymes (AST, ALT, GLDH) showed no significant differences between serum-free and serum-supplemented bioreactors. Activities of human-relevant cytochrome P450 (CYP) isoenzymes (CYP1A2, CYP3A4/5, CYP2C9, CYP2D6, CYP2B6) analyzed by determination of product formation rates from selective probe substrates were also comparable in both groups. Gene expression analysis showed moderately higher expression in the majority of CYP enzymes, transport proteins and enzymes of Phase II metabolism in the serum-free bioreactors compared to those maintained with FCS. In conclusion, the miniaturized bioreactor maintained stable function over the investigated period and thus provides a suitable system for pharmacological studies on primary human hepatocytes under defined serum-free conditions.


bioreactor; cytochrome P450; human hepatocytes; perfusion; pharmacological studies; serum-free; three-dimensional culture

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