Dedifferentiation of human hepatocytes by extracellular matrix proteinsin vitro: quantitative and qualitative investigation of cytokeratin 7, 8, 18, 19 and vimentin filaments

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Liver cirrhosis and carcinogenesis are accompanied by an alteration in extracellular matrix material. Histological studies reveal upregulation of the intermediate filaments cytokeratins 8 and 18 and de novo synthesis of vimentin, and cytokeratin 7 of 19 in hepatocytes. The aim of this study was to investigate how these two processes are linked.


Human hepatocytes were seeded: (i) on the matrix components collagen I, IV, laminin, or fibronectin; (ii) on stoichiometrically different complete matrices, derived from human placenta (matrix I) or the Englebreth-Holm-Swarm tumor (matrix II), and (iii) inside a three-dimensional collagen I sandwich. Filament expression and assembly were measured by cytofluor analysis or confocal laserscan microscopy.


The matrix components or complete matrices triggered enhancement of cytokeratins 8 and 18 and de novo synthesis of cytokeratins 7, 19 and vimentin in a characteristic way. Confocal images demonstrated a dense and uniform network of cytokeratin 18 in freshly isolated cells, which was"replaced" by a few, thick protein bundles within 20 days. Interestingly, newly synthesized cytokeratin 19 structurally resembled the cytokeratin 19 organization in biliary epithelial cells. Marked cytokeratin alterations could be partially prevented when hepatocytes were grown in a three-dimensional collagen sandwich.


Pathological alterations to the chemical composition, molecular structure, or spatial arrangement of the liver matrix lead to specific changes in the intermediate filament pattern in human hepatocytes. We assume that degradation of the matrix results in pathological alterations to the hepatocyte-receptor matrix-ligand ratio, followed by a switch from physiological to pathological cell-activation.

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