BACKGROUND/AIMS: Liver is a vital organ and retains its regeneration capability throughout adulthood, which requires contributions from different cell populations, including liver precursors and intrahepatic stem cells. To overcome the mortality of hepatic progenitors (iHPs) in vitro, we aim to establish reversibly immortalized hepatic progenitor cells from mouse embryonic liver.
METHODS AND RESULTS: Using retroviral system to stably express SV40 T antigen flanked with Cre/LoxP sites, we establish a repertoire of iHP clones with varied differentiation potential. The iHP cells maintain long-term proliferative activity and express varied levels of progenitor markers (Pou5f1/Oct4 and Dlk) and hepatocyte markers (AFP, Alb and ApoB). Five representative iHP clones express hepatic/pancreatic transcription factors HNF3α/Foxa1, HNF3β/Foxa2, and HNF4α/MODY1. Dexamethasone is shown to promote the expression of hepatocyte markers AFP and TAT, along with ICG-uptake and glycogen storage functions in the iHP clones. Cre-mediated removal of SV40 T antigen reverses the proliferative activity of iHP cells. When iHP cells are subcutaneously implanted in athymic nude mice, no tumor formation is observed for up to 8 weeks.
CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrate that the established iHP cells are stable, reversible, and non-tumorigenic hepatic progenitor-like cells, which should be valuable for studying liver organogenesis, metabolic regulations, and hepatic lineage-specific differentiation.
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