The effects of hexabromocyclododecane on the transcriptome and hepatic enzyme activity in three human HepaRG-based models

Susana Proença*, Nick van Sabben, Juliette Legler, Jorke H. Kamstra, Nynke I. Kramer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The disruption of thyroid hormone homeostasis by hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) in rodents is hypothesized to be due to HBCD increasing the hepatic clearance of thyroxine (T4). The extent to which these effects are relevant to humans is unclear. To evaluate HBCD effects on humans, the activation of key hepatic nuclear receptors and the consequent disruption of thyroid hormone homeostasis were studied in different human hepatic cell models. The hepatoma cell line, HepaRG, cultured as two-dimensional (2D), sandwich (SW) and spheroid (3D) cultures, and primary human hepatocytes (PHH) cultured as sandwich were exposed to 1 and 10 µM HBCD and characterized for their transcriptome changes. Pathway enrichment analysis showed that 3D models, followed by SW, had a stronger transcriptome response to HBCD, which is explained by the higher expression of hepatic nuclear receptors but also greater accumulation of HBCD measured inside cells in these models. The Pregnane X receptor pathway is one of the pathways most upregulated across the three hepatic models, followed by the constitutive androstane receptor and general hepatic nuclear receptors pathways. Lipid metabolism pathways had a downregulation tendency in all exposures and in both PHH and the three cultivation modes of HepaRG. The activity of enzymes related to PXR/CAR induction and T4 metabolism were evaluated in the three different types of HepaRG cultures exposed to HBCD for 48 h. Reference inducers, rifampicin and PCB-153 did affect 2D and SW HepaRG cultures’ enzymatic activity but not 3D. HBCD did not induce the activity of any of the studied enzymes in any of the cell models and culture methods. This study illustrates that for nuclear receptor-mediated T4 disruption, transcriptome changes might not be indicative of an actual adverse effect. Clarification of the reasons for the lack of translation is essential to evaluate new chemicals’ potential to be thyroid hormone disruptors by altering thyroid hormone metabolism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number153411
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • HBCD
  • HepaRG
  • PXR
  • Sandwich
  • Spheroids
  • Thyroid hormones


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