• teratogenecity;
  • embryotoxicity;
  • cyclophosphamide;
  • bioactivation;
  • whole embryo culture;
  • co-cultivation


The technique of whole embryo culture developed by New [Environ Health Perspect 18:105–110, 1976] provides a sensitive assay to evaluate the effects of a test chemical on embryo development independent of maternal influences. To detect proteratogens, this assay must be coupled with an exogenous metabolic activation system. We have developed methods for the co-cultivation of rat embryos with primary hepatocytes, which offers several advantages over subcellular fractions when providing metabolic activation for in vitro assays. In the present study, rat embryos removed from the dam on day 10 of pregnancy were cocultivated in vitro with primary cultures of rat, rabbit, or hamster hepatocytes. Embryos co-cultivated with hepatocytes developed normally, as did embryos exposed to a test chemical, cyclophosphamide (CP) in the absence of hepatocytes. When embryos were co-cultivated with hepatocytes and exposed to CP, a doserelated embryotoxicity was observed, indicating metabolic activation of the proteratogen. Using hepatocytes isolated from rats pretreated in vivo with phenobarbital, we observed an increase in CP-induced malformations and embryotoxicity compared to those of embryos exposed to CP in the presence of uninduced hepatocytes. The teratogenic bioactivation of CP was inhibited in vitro by the addition of metyrapone. When similar numbers of hepatocytes were used for metabolic activation of CP the induced embryotoxicity was greater in the presence of rabbit and hamster hepatocytes than with rat hepatocytes. Development of procedures for the culture of rat embryos with hepatocytes from other species suggests the utility of this in vitro system for the investigation of species differences in sensitivity to chemical teratogens.