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Primary human hepatocytes are considered to be the "gold standard" cellular model for studying hepatic fatty acid and glucose metabolism; however, they come with limitations. Although the HepG2 cell line retains many of the primary hepatocyte metabolic functions they have a malignant origin and low rates of triglyceride secretion. The aim of this study was to investigate whether dimethyl sulfoxide supplementation in the media of HepG2 cells would enhance metabolic functionality leading to the development of an improved in vitro cell model that closely recapitulates primary human hepatocyte metabolism. HepG2 cells were cultured in media containing 1% dimethyl sulfoxide for 2, 4, 7, 14, and 21 days. Gene expression, protein levels, intracellular triglyceride, and media concentrations of triglyceride, urea, and 3-hydroxybutyrate concentrations were measured. Dimethyl sulfoxide treatment altered the expression of genes involved in lipid (FAS, ACC1, ACC2, DGAT1, DGAT2, SCD) and glucose (PEPCK, G6Pase) metabolism as well as liver functionality (albumin, alpha-1-antitrypsin, AFP). mRNA changes were paralleled by alterations at the protein level. DMSO treatment decreased intracellular triglyceride content and lactate production and increased triglyceride and 3-hydroxybutyrate concentrations in the media in a time-dependent manner. We have demonstrated that the addition of 1% dimethyl sulfoxide to culture media changes the metabolic phenotype of HepG2 cells toward a more primary human hepatocyte phenotype. This will enhance the currently available in vitro model systems for the study of hepatocyte biology related to pathological processes that contribute to disease and their response to specific therapeutic interventions.

Original publication




Journal article


Physiol Rep

Publication Date





DMSO , Carbohydrate, HepG2, lipid, metabolism, Cells, Cultured, Cryoprotective Agents, Dimethyl Sulfoxide, Fatty Acids, Gluconeogenesis, Glucose, Hep G2 Cells, Hepatocytes, Humans, Lipid Metabolism, Lipids, Liver, Phenotype, Triglycerides