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Drug Metab Rev. 2013 May;45(2):196-217. doi: 10.3109/03602532.2012.756010. Epub 2013 Feb 1.

Primary hepatocyte cultures as prominent in vitro tools to study hepatic drug transporters.

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Department of Toxicology, Center for Pharmaceutical Research, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium.


Before any drug can be placed on the market, drug efficacy and safety must be ensured through rigorous testing. Animal models are used for this purpose, though currently increasing attention goes to the use of alternative in vitro systems. In particular, liver-based testing platforms that allow the prediction of pharmacokinetic (PK) and pharmacotoxicological properties during the early phase of drug development are of interest. They also enable the screening of potential effects on hepatic drug transporters. The latter are known to affect drug metabolism and disposition, thereby possibly underlying drug-drug interactions, which, in turn, may result in liver toxicity. Clearly, stable in vivo-like functional expression of drug transporters in hepatic in vitro settings is a prerequisite to be applicable in routine PK and pharmacotoxicological testing. In the first part of the article, an updated overview of hepatic drug transporters is provided, followed by a state-of-the-art review of drug-transporter production and activity in primary hepatocyte cultures (PHCs), being the gold-standard in vitro system. Specific focus is hereby put on strategies to maintain long-term functional expression, in casu of drug transporters, in these systems. In the second part, the use of PHCs to assess hepatobiliary transport and transporter-mediated interactions is outlined.

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