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Cyanotoxin cylindrospermopsin disrupts lipid homeostasis and metabolism in a 3D in vitro model of the human liver

et al. Riju Roy Chowdhury

Chemico-Biological Interactions


Cylindrospermopsin, a potent hepatotoxin produced by harmful cyanobacterial blooms, poses environmental and human health concerns. We used a 3D human liver in vitro model based on spheroids of HepG2 cells, in combination with molecular and biochemical assays, automated imaging, targeted LC-MS-based proteomics, and lipidomics, to explore cylindrospermopsin effects on lipid metabolism and the processes implicated in hepatic steatosis.

Cylindrospermopsin (1 μM, 48 h) did not significantly affect cell viability but partially reduced albumin secretion. However, it increased neutral lipid accumulation in HepG2 spheroids while decreasing phospholipid levels. Simultaneously, cylindrospermopsin upregulated genes for lipogenesis regulation (SREBF1) and triacylglycerol synthesis (DGAT1/2) and downregulated genes for fatty acid synthesis (ACLY, ACCA, FASN, SCD1).

Fatty acid uptake, oxidation, and lipid efflux genes were not significantly affected. Targeted proteomics revealed increased levels of perilipin 2 (adipophilin), a major hepatocyte lipid droplet-associated protein. Lipid profiling quantified 246 lipid species in the spheroids, with 28 significantly enriched and 15 downregulated by cylindrospermopsin.

Upregulated species included neutral lipids, sphingolipids (e.g., ceramides and dihexosylceramides), and some glycerophospholipids (phosphatidylethanolamines, phosphatidylserines), while phosphatidylcholines and phosphatidylinositols were mostly reduced. It suggests that cylindrospermopsin exposures might contribute to developing and progressing towards hepatic steatosis or metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD).


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