Accessing 3D microtissue metabolism: Lactate and oxygen monitoring in hepatocyte spheroids

Andreas Weltin, Steffen Hammer, Fozia Noor, Yeda Kaminski, Jochen Kieninger, Gerald A Urban

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

84 Citations (Scopus)


3D hepatic microtissues, unlike 2D cell cultures, retain many of the in-vivo-like functionalities even after long-term cultivation. Such 3D cultures are increasingly applied to investigate liver damage due to drug exposure in toxicology. However, there is a need for thorough metabolic characterization of these microtissues for mechanistic understanding of effects on culture behaviour. We measured metabolic parameters from single human HepaRG hepatocyte spheroids online and continuously with electrochemical microsensors. A microsensor platform for lactate and oxygen was integrated in a standard 96-well plate. Electrochemical microsensors for lactate and oxygen allow fast, precise and continuous long-term measurement of metabolic parameters directly in the microwell. The demonstrated capability to precisely detect small concentration changes by single spheroids is the key to access their metabolism. Lactate levels in the culture medium starting from 50µM with production rates of 5µMh-1 were monitored and precisely quantified over three days. Parallel long-term oxygen measurements showed no oxygen depletion or hypoxic conditions in the microwell. Increased lactate production by spheroids upon suppression of the aerobic metabolism was observed. The dose-dependent decrease in lactate production caused by the addition of the hepatotoxic drug Bosentan was determined. We showed that in a toxicological application, metabolic monitoring yields quantitative, online information on cell viability, which complements and supports other methods such as microscopy. The demonstrated continuous access to 3D cell culture metabolism within a standard setup improves in vitro toxicology models in replacement strategies of animal experiments. Controlling the microenvironment of such organotypic cultures has impact in tissue engineering, cancer therapy and personalized medicine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)941-948
Number of pages8
JournalBiosensors and Bioelectronics
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Biosensing Techniques/instrumentation
  • Cell Culture Techniques/instrumentation
  • Cell Line
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical/instrumentation
  • Equipment Design
  • Hepatocytes/cytology
  • Humans
  • Lab-On-A-Chip Devices
  • Lactic Acid/analysis
  • Oxygen/analysis
  • Spheroids, Cellular/cytology


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