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Chem Res Toxicol. 2016 Dec 19;29(12):1936-1955. Epub 2016 Sep 23.

Novel 3D Culture Systems for Studies of Human Liver Function and Assessments of the Hepatotoxicity of Drugs and Drug Candidates.

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Section of Pharmacogenetics, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet , SE-17177 Stockholm, Sweden.
Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases, Innovative Medicines and Early Development Biotech Unit, AstraZeneca , Pepparedsleden 1, Mölndal, 431 83, Sweden.


The liver is an organ with critical importance for drug treatment as the disposition and response to a given drug is often determined by its hepatic metabolism. Patient-specific factors can entail increased susceptibility to drug-induced liver injury, which constitutes a major risk for drug development programs causing attrition of promising drug candidates or costly withdrawals in postmarketing stages. Hitherto, mainly animal studies and 2D hepatocyte systems have been used for the examination of human drug metabolism and toxicity. Yet, these models are far from satisfactory due to extensive species differences and because hepatocytes in 2D cultures rapidly dedifferentiate resulting in the loss of their hepatic phenotype and functionality. With the increasing comprehension that 3D cell culture systems more accurately reflect in vivo physiology, in the recent decade more and more research has focused on the development and optimization of various 3D culture strategies in an attempt to preserve liver properties in vitro. In this contribution, we critically review these developments, which have resulted in an arsenal of different static and perfused 3D models. These systems include sandwich-cultured hepatocytes, spheroid culture platforms, and various microfluidic liver or multiorgan biochips. Importantly, in many of these models hepatocytes maintain their phenotype for prolonged times, which allows probing the potential of newly developed chemical entities to cause chronic hepatotoxicity. Moreover, some platforms permit the investigation of drug action in specific genetic backgrounds or diseased hepatocytes, thereby significantly expanding the repertoire of tools to detect drug-induced liver injuries. It is concluded that the development of 3D liver models has hitherto been fruitful and that systems are now at hand whose sensitivity and specificity in detecting hepatotoxicity are superior to those of classical 2D culture systems. For the future, we highlight the need to develop more integrated coculture model systems to emulate immunotoxicities that arise due to complex interactions between hepatocytes and immune cells.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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