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Modelling foetal exposure to maternal smoking using hepatoblasts from pluripotent stem cells

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Original languageEnglish
JournalArchives of toxicology
Early online date16 May 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 May 2017


The liver is a dynamic organ which is both multifunctional and highly regenerative. A major role of the liver is to process both endo and xenobiotics. Cigarettes are an example of a legal and widely used drug which can cause major health problems for adults and constitute a particular risk to the foetus, if the mother smokes during pregnancy. Cigarette smoke contains a complex mixture of thousands of different xenobiotics, including nicotine and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These affect foetal development in a sex-specific manner, inducing sex-dependant molecular responses in different organs. To date, the effect of maternal smoking on the foetal liver has been studied in vitro using cell lines, primary tissue and animal models. While these models have proven to be useful, poor cell phenotype, tissue scarcity, batch-to-batch variation and species differences have led to difficulties in data extrapolation toward human development. Therefore, in this study we have employed hepatoblasts, derived from pluripotent stem cells, to model the effects of xenobiotics from cigarette smoke on human hepatocyte development. Highly pure hepatocyte populations (>90%) were produced in vitro and exposed to factors present in cigarette smoke. Analysis of ATP levels revealed that, independent of the sex, the majority of smoking derivatives tested individually did not deplete ATP levels below 50%. However, following exposure to a cocktail of smoking derivatives, ATP production fell below 50% in a sex-dependent manner. This was paralleled by a loss metabolic activity and secretory ability in both female and male hepatocytes. Interestingly, cell depletion was less pronounced in female hepatocytes, whereas caspase activation was ~twofold greater, indicating sex differences in cell death upon exposure to the smoking derivatives tested.

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