The limited availability of donor organs has led to a search for alternatives to liver transplantation to restore liver function and bridge patients to transplantation. We have shown that the proliferation of late gestation (embryonic day 19) fetal rat hepatocytes is mitogen-independent and that mechanisms regulating mRNA translation, cell cycle progression, and gene expression differ from those of adult rat hepatocytes. In the present study, we investigated whether E19 fetal hepatocytes can engraft and repopulate an injured adult liver.Methods
Fetal hepatocytes were isolated using a monoclonal antibody against a hepatic surface protein, leucine amino peptidase (LAP). LAP+ and LAP− fractions were analyzed by immunofluorescence and microarray. Immunopurified E19 liver cells from DPPIV+ rats were transplanted via splenic injection into partial hepatectomized DPPIV− rats that had been pretreated with mitomycin C.Results
More than a third of LAP+ fetal hepatocytes expressed ductal markers. Transcriptomic analysis revealed that these dual-expressing cells represent a population of less well-differentiated hepatocytes. Upon transplantation, LAP+ late gestation fetal hepatocytes formed hepatic, endothelial, and ductal colonies within 1 month. By 10 months, colonies derived from LAP+ cells increased so that up to 35% of the liver was repopulated by donor-derived cells.Conclusions
Late gestation fetal hepatocytes, despite being far along in the differentiation process, possess the capacity for extensive liver repopulation. This is likely related to the unexpected presence of a significant proportion of hepatocyte marker-positive cells maintaining a less well-differentiated phenotype.