Long term cultures of primary human hepatocytes as an alternative to drug testing in animals

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Anett Ullrich , Donna B. Stolz, Ewa C. Ellis, Stephen C. Strom, George K. Michalopoulos, Jan G. Hengstler, Dieter Runge
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Due to species differences, primary human hepatocytes are still the in vitro system of choice to analyse liver specific processes and functions. Human hepatocytes were cultured for several weeks in a serum-free twodimensional culture system, which was used to study the effects of acetaminophen (APAP) on hepatocellular functions and vitality. Non-invasive determinations of albumin, urea and lactate dehydrogenase concentrations in cell culture supernatants allowed continuous monitoring for at least two weeks. APAP was applied every 4 days for 24 h. Each application reduced urea production by 25% and albumin synthesis by approximately 70% without any effects on cellular viability. After removal of the substance, hepatocellular functions returned to control levels within one (urea) to three (albumin) days. The repetitive analyses of APAP-mediated effects on cellular metabolism led to identical results for up to five cycles. The drug also caused reversible and repetitive ultrastructural modifications, in particular an almost complete replacement of rough endoplasmic reticulum by smooth endoplasmic reticulum and a massive degradation of glycogen stores. The data demonstrate the suitability of the culture system to serve as a model for repetitive testing of drug-mediated changes on hepatocellular functions, thereby reducing animal studies during drug development.

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Ullrich, A. (2009) “Long term cultures of primary human hepatocytes as an alternative to drug testing in animals”, ALTEX - Alternatives to animal experimentation, 26(4), pp. 295–302. doi: 10.14573/altex.2009.4.295.

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