Developing scalable cultivation systems of hepatic spheroids for drug metabolism via genomic and functional analyses

Jiwon Ahn, Ho Joon Lee, Soo Jin Oh, Wantae Kim, Seon Ju Mun, Jae Hye Lee, Cho Rock Jung, Hyun Soo Cho, Dae Soo Kim, Myung Jin Son, Kyung Sook Chung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Spheroids, a widely used three-dimensional (3D) culture model, are standard in hepatocyte culture as they preserve long-term hepatocyte functionality and enhance survivability. In this study, we investigated the effects of three operation modes in 3D culture — static, orbital shaking, and under vertical bidirectional flow using spheroid forming units (SFUs) on hepatic differentiation and drug metabolism to propose the best for mass production of functionally enhanced spheroids. Spheroids in SFUs exhibited increased hepatic gene expression, albumin secretion, and cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4) activity during the differentiation period (12 days). SFUs advantages include facilitated mass production and a relatively earlier peak of CYP3A4 activity. However, CYP3A4 activity was not well maintained under dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO)-free conditions (13–18 days), dramatically reducing drug metabolism capability. Continued shear stimulation without differentiation stimuli in assay conditions markedly attenuated CYP3A4 activity, which was less severe in static conditions. In this condition, SFU spheroids exhibited dedifferentiation characteristics, such as increased proliferation and Notch signaling genes. We found that the dedifferentiation could be overcome by using the serum-free medium formulation. Therefore, we suggest that SFUs represent the best option for the mass production of functionally improved spheroids and so the serum-free conditions should be maintained during drug metabolism analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1496-1508
Number of pages13
JournalBiotechnology and Bioengineering
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • hepatocyte
  • serum-free
  • shear
  • spheroid forming unit
  • three-dimensional culture


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