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Alternatives to Laboratory Animals - ATLA

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The Use of Cultured Hepatocytes to Investigate the Metabolism of Drugs and Mechanisms of Drug Hepatotoxicity

Maria J. Gómez-Lechón, Xavier Ponsoda, Roque Bort and José V. Castell

Hepatotoxins can be classified as intrinsic when they exert their effects on all individuals in a dose-dependent manner, and as idiosyncratic when their effects are the consequence of an abnormal metabolism of the drug by susceptible individuals (metabolic idiosyncrasy) or of an immune-mediated injury to hepatocytes (allergic hepatitis). Some xenobiotics are electrophilic, and others are biotransformed by the liver into highly reactive metabolites that are usually more toxic than the parent compound. This activation process is the key to many hepatotoxic phenomena. Mitochondria are a frequent target of hepatotoxic drugs, and the alteration of their function has immediate effects on the energy balance of cells (depletion of ATP). Lipid peroxidation, oxidative stress, alteration of Ca2+ homeostasis, and covalent binding to cell macromolecules are the molecular mechanisms that are frequently involved in the toxicity of xenobiotics. Against these potential hazards, cells have their own defence mechanisms (for example, glutathione, DNA repair, suicide inactivation). Ultimately, toxicity is the balance between bioactivation and detoxification, which determines whether a reactive metabolite elicits a toxic effect. The ultimate goal of in vitro experiments is to generate the type of scientific information needed to identify compounds that are potentially toxic to man. For this purpose, both the design of the experiments and the interpretation of the results are critical.