Background. This study was designed to determine if an anti-necrotic compound, glycine, and/or an anti-apoptotic agent, ZVAD-fmk, improved the viability and function of hepatocytes in a bioartificial liver. Methods. Isolated rat hepatocytes were entrapped in collagen gel (1.0 - 10.0 x 106 cells/mL) and cultured in serum-free medium (1:10 ratio of gel:media) supplemented with glycine alone, ZVAD-fmk alone, or glycine and ZVAD-fmk. The cytoprotective effects of glycine and ZVAD-fmk on gel-entrapped rat hepatocytes (GERH) were determined after anoxic exposure (0 - 20 hours). Cell functionality (measured by urea production), cell viability (quantitated by vital staining with fluorescein diacetate:ethidium bromide [FDA:EB]), and the mechanism of cell death (verified by electron microscopy and DNA fragmentation studies) were determined for each condition. Results: The viability of GERH declined gradually and then stabilized 12 hours after hepatocyte isolation. The rate of urea production by GERH was directly proportional to the number of viable hepatocytes. Apoptotic death predominated at low cell density, and necrotic cell death became significant at high cell density. Hepatocyte necrosis became more significant after exposure to longer periods of anoxia (4, 8, 12, and 20 hours). ZVAD-fmk provided dose-dependent cytoprotection to GERH with an optimum benefit at a concentration of 60 μmol/L. After anoxic exposure or under high cell density culture, glycine demonstrated a maximum benefit of inhibiting necrosis at a concentration of 3 mmol/L. The beneficial effects of glycine and ZVAD-fmk were additive. Conclusions. The metabolic activity of a hepatocyte bioartificial liver may benefit from the use of cytoprotective agents such as ZVAD-fmk and glycine.
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