Drug-induced liver injury (DILI) is a leading cause of acute liver failure and transplantation. DILI can be the result of impaired hepatobiliary transporters, with altered bile formation, flow, and subsequent cholestasis. We used gadoxetate dynamic contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (DCE-MRI), combined with pharmacokinetic modelling, to measure hepatobiliary transporter function in vivo in rats. The sensitivity and robustness of the method was tested by evaluating the effect of a clinical dose of the antibiotic rifampicin in four different preclinical imaging centers. The mean gadoxetate uptake rate constant for the vehicle groups at all centers was 39.3 +/- 3.4 s-1 (n = 23) and 11.7 +/- 1.3 s-1 (n = 20) for the rifampicin groups. The mean gadoxetate efflux rate constant for the vehicle groups was 1.53 +/- 0.08 s-1 (n = 23) and for the rifampicin treated groups was 0.94 +/- 0.08 s-1 (n = 20). Both the uptake and excretion transporters of gadoxetate were statistically significantly inhibited by the clinical dose of rifampicin at all centers and the size of this treatment group effect was consistent across the centers. Gadoxetate is a clinically approved MRI contrast agent, so this method is readily transferable to the clinic. Conclusion: Rate constants of gadoxetate uptake and excretion are sensitive and robust biomarkers to detect early changes in hepatobiliary transporter function in vivo in rats prior to established biomarkers of liver toxicity.
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