Metabolic activity testing can underestimate acute drug cytotoxicity as revealed by HepG2 cell clones overexpressing cytochrome P450 2C19 and 3A4.


Institute of Biotechnology, Brandenburg University of Technology, Universitätsplatz 1, 01968, Senftenberg, Germany. Electronic address: [Email]


Preclinical drug safety assessment includes in vitro studies with physiologically relevant cell cultures. As an in vitro system for hepatic toxicology testing, we have been generating cell clones of human hepatoblastoma cell line HepG2 by lentiviral transduction of phase I cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes. Here, we present a stable CYP2C19-overexpressing HepG2 cell clone (HepG2-2C19 C1) showing an enzyme activity of approximately 82 pmol x min-1 x mg-1 total cellular protein. The phenotypic stability over several passages of HepG2-2C19 C1 renders them to be a suitable reference cell clone for benchmarking CYP2C19 enzyme activity. In addition, we were interested to analyze acute cytotoxicity of the model drug cyclophosphamide (CPA) metabolized by HepG2-2C19 C1 and by a previously generated CYP3A4-overexpressing HepG2 cell clone. Upon 10 mM CPA exposure, we were able to detect its metabolites 4-hydroxy-cyclophosphamide and acrolein in CYP3A4- and CYP2C19-expressing cell clones, but not in parental HepG2 cell line. XTT and ATP assays showed a modest reduction of cell viability of not more than 50% with high dose (10 mM) CPA treatment. By contrast, dramatic acute cytotoxic effects of CPA were evident by the formation of nuclear γH2AX foci and by increased cell death events. These effects were paralleled by substantial decreases of cell membrane integrity as measured by the trypan blue exclusion test. Our data on CYP enzyme overexpressing HepG2 cell clones clearly show that cytotoxicity of CPA is dramatically underestimated by standard metabolic activity tests. Thus, additional tests to quantitate DNA damage formation and cell death induction might be required to realistically assess cytotoxicity of such compounds.


Cyclophosphamide,Cytochrome P450,Hepatocyte,Liver metabolism,Toxicity,γH2AX foci,