Determination of genotoxic potencies of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in HepaRG cells using the γH2AX assay

Jochem Louisse*, Deborah Rijkers, Geert Stoopen, Wendy Jansen Holleboom, Mona Delagrange, Elise Molthof, Patrick P.J. Mulder, Ron L.A.P. Hoogenboom, Marc Audebert, Ad A.C.M. Peijnenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) are secondary metabolites from plants that have been found in substantial amounts in herbal supplements, infusions and teas. Several PAs cause cancer in animal bioassays, mediated via a genotoxic mode of action, but for the majority of the PAs, carcinogenicity data are lacking. It is assumed in the risk assessment that all PAs have the same potency as riddelliine, which is considered to be one of the most potent carcinogenic PAs in rats. This may overestimate the risks, since many PAs are expected to have lower potencies. In this study we determined the concentration-dependent genotoxicity of 37 PAs representing different chemical classes using the γH2AX in cell western assay in HepaRG human liver cells. Based on these in vitro data, PAs were grouped into different potency classes. The group with the highest potency consists particularly of open diester PAs and cyclic diester PAs (including riddelliine). The group of the least potent or non-active PAs includes the monoester PAs, non-esterified necine bases, PA N-oxides, and the unsaturated PA trachelanthamine. This study reveals differences in in vitro genotoxic potencies of PAs, supporting that the assumption that all PAs have a similar potency as riddelliine is rather conservative.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110532
JournalFood and Chemical Toxicology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • Genotoxicity
  • HepaRG
  • Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs)
  • Relative potency factor (RPF)
  • γH2AX assay

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