Background/aims: Hepatic stellate cells (HSC) are commonly considered the precursor population of septal myofibroblasts (MF) in cirrhosis. We studied the distribution and expression profile of mesenchymal (myo)fibroblast-like populations in fibrotic and cirrhotic liver, in an attempt to elucidate their possible interrelationships.
Methods: Fibrotic/cirrhotic livers (from 22 human explants and from two rat models: carbon tetrachloride intoxication, bile duct-ligation) were studied by means of immunohistochemistry (single and double immunostaining) with antibodies raised against desmin, alpha-smooth muscle actin (alpha SMA), glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), neural-cell adhesion molecule (N-CAM), synaptophysin, neurotrophins, neurotrophin receptors and alpha B-crystallin (ABCRYS).
Results: Septal MF showed the same expression profile as portal MF, in human and rat, being alpha SMA/ABCRYS/brain-derived nerve growth factor/GFAP-expression, with additional N-CAM- and desmin-expression in rat portal/septal MF. Perisinusoidally located HSC stained with all tested markers, MF at the septal/parenchymal interface showed an expression profile, intermediate between the profiles of HSC and portal/septal MF.
Conclusions: In advanced fibrosis and in cirrhosis, regardless of cause or species, three distinct mesenchymal (myo)fibroblast-like liver cell subpopulations can be discerned: portal/septal MF, interface MF and perisinusoidally located HSC. The fact that septal MF share more characteristics with portal MF than with HSC might suggest descent.