• liver;
  • metabolic activity;
  • CYP 450;
  • cell metabolism;
  • long-term studies;
  • 3D cultivation;
  • toxicity


As the major research focus is shifting to three-dimensional (3D) cultivation techniques, hollow-fiber bioreactors, allowing the formation of tissue-like structures, show immense potential as they permit controlled in vitro cultivation while supporting the in vivo environment. In this study we carried out a systematic and detailed physiological characterization of human liver cells in a 3D hollow-fiber bioreactor system continuously run for > 2 weeks. Primary human hepatocytes were maintained viable and functional over the whole period of cultivation. Both general cellular functions, e.g. oxygen uptake, amino acid metabolism and substrate consumption, and liver-specific functions, such as drug-metabolizing capacities and the production of liver-specific metabolites were found to be stable for > 2 weeks. As expected, donor-to-donor variability was observed in liver-specific functions, namely urea and albumin production. Moreover, we show the maintenance of primary human hepatocytes in serum-free conditions in this set-up. The stable basal cytochrome P450 activity 3 weeks after isolation of the cells demonstrates the potential of such a system for pharmacological applications. Liver cells in the presented 3D bioreactor system could eventually be used not only for long-term metabolic and toxicity studies but also for chronic repeated dose toxicity assessment. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.