Connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) stimulates in vitro fibroblast proliferation and extracellular matrix synthesis. The aim of this study was to assess the role of CTGF in liver fibrogenesis. CTGF expression was investigated both at the protein and mRNA level in biopsies of chronic liver diseases, in experimental models of liver fibrosis, and in hepatic stellate cells in culture. CTGF immunostaining was observed in most human liver biopsies with significant fibrosis. An increase of CTGF immunostaining was associated with a higher score of fibrosis both in the group of chronic hepatitis C (chi(2) = 9.3; P <.01) and in the non-hepatitis C group (chi(2) = 7.2; P <.02). In situ hybridization showed CTGF mRNA expression in spindle cells in both the fibrous septa and sinusoidal lining. In experimental models of liver fibrosis, CTGF accumulated in parallel with the development of septal fibrosis and cirrhosis. Quantification of CTGF mRNA by a real-time reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay showed a significant increase of CTGF mRNA in both CCl(4)-induced and bile duct-ligated rat models of liver fibrosis. Expression of CTGF protein and mRNA was definitively assigned to hepatic stellate cells, because CTGF was detected by Western blot both in lysate and supernatant of a hepatic stellate cell line derived from rats. These cells also displayed CTGF protein and mRNA as shown by immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization. In conclusion, this study shows that CTGF is strongly expressed during liver fibrogenesis, and hepatic stellate cells seem to be the major cellular sources of CTGF in the liver.