HepG2, hepatocellular carcinoma cells, are used in drug toxicity studies and have also been explored for bioartificial livers. For these applications, the cells are under variable levels of nutrients and hormones, the effects of which on metabolism are poorly understood. In this study, HepG2-C3A cells were cultured under varying levels of glucose (high, low, and glucose-free) and insulin (without and with physiological levels of insulin) for 5 days. Cell growth was found to be comparable between high and low glucose media and lowest for glucose-free medium. Several features of central metabolism were affected profoundly by the medium glucose levels. Glucose consumption was greater for low glucose medium compared to high glucose medium, consistent with known glucose feedback regulation mechanisms. Urea productivity was highest in glucose-free medium. Further, it was seen that lactate acted as an alternative carbon source in the absence of glucose, whereas it acted as a sink for the high and low glucose media. Using a metabolic network flexibility analysis (MNFA) framework with stoichiometric and thermodynamic constraints, intracellular fluxes under varying levels of glucose and insulin were evaluated. The analysis indicates that urea production in HepG2-C3A cells arises via the arginase II pathway rather than from ammonia detoxification. Further, involvement of the putrescine metabolism with glutamine metabolism caused higher urea production in glucose-free medium consistent with higher glutamine uptake. MNFA indicated that in high and low glucose media, glycolysis, glutaminolysis, and oxidative phosphorylation were the main sources of energy (NADH, NADPH, and ATP). In the glucose-free medium, due to very low glycolytic flux, higher malate to pyruvate glutaminolytic flux and TCA cycle contributed more significantly to energy metabolism. The presence of insulin lowered glycerol uptake and corresponding fluxes involved in lipid metabolism for all glucose levels but otherwise exerted negligible effect on metabolism. HepG2-C3A cells thus show distinct differences from primary hepatocytes in terms of energy metabolism and urea production. This knowledge can be used to design media supplements and metabolically engineer cells to restore necessary hepatic functions to HepG2-C3A cells for a range of applications.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
- Energy metabolism
- Hepatocellular carcinoma
- Hexokinase II
- Metabolic network flexibility analysis
- Urea production