Chlorpromazine toxicity is associated with disruption of cell membrane integrity and initiation of a pro-inflammatory response in the HepaRG hepatic cell line

Frances Morgan, Nicole Martucci, Ada Kozlowska, Wesam Gamal, Fillip Brzeszczynki, Philipp Treskes, Kay Samuel, Peter Hayes, Leonard Nelson, Pierre Bagnaninchi, Joanna Brzeszczynska, John Plevris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Chlorpromazine (CPZ) is a neuroleptic drug and prototype compound used to study intrahepatic cholestasis. The exact mechanisms of CPZ induced cholestasis remain unclear. Rat hepatocytes, or a sandwich culture of rat and human hepatocytes, have been the most commonly used models for studying CPZ toxicity in vitro. However, to better predict outcomes in pre-clinical trials where cholestasis may be an unwanted consequence, a human in vitro model, based on human HepaRG cells, capable of real-time, non-invasive and label free monitoring, alongside molecular investigations would be beneficial. To address this we used the human hepatic HepaRG cell line, and established concentrations of CPZ ranging from sub-toxic, 25 μM and 50 μM, to toxic 100 μM and compared them with untreated control. To assess the effect of this range of CPZ concentrations we employed electrical cell-substrate impedance sensing (ECIS) to measure viability and cell membrane interactions alongside traditional viability assays, immunocytostaining and qRT-PCR to assess genes of interest within adaptive and inflammatory pathways. Using these methods, we show a concentration dependant response to CPZ involving pro-inflammatory pathway, loss of tight junctions and membrane integrity, and an adaptive response mediated by Cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzyme activation and up-regulation of membrane phospholipid and xenobiotic transporters. In conclusion, structural changes within the membrane caused by sub-toxic and toxic concentrations of CPZ negatively impact the function of the cellular membrane. Damage to efflux transport proteins caused by CPZ induce cholestasis alongside downstream inflammation, which activates compensatory responses for cell survival.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1408-1416
Number of pages9
JournalBiomedicine and Pharmacotherapy
Early online date19 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Chlorpromazine
  • HepaRG
  • Cell membrane
  • Tight junctions
  • ECIS
  • Pro-inflammatory
  • Impedance sensing
  • Adaptive response
  • DRUG

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