The role of hepatocytes and oval cells in liver regeneration and repopulation

Mech Dev. 2003 Jan;120(1):117-30. doi: 10.1016/s0925-4773(02)00338-6.


The liver has the unique capacity to regulate its growth and mass. In rodents and humans, it grows rapidly after resection of more than 50% of its mass. This growth process, as well as that following acute chemical injury is known as liver regeneration, although growth takes place by compensatory hyperplasia rather than true regeneration. In addition to hepatocytes and non-parenchymal cells, the liver contains intra-hepatic "stem" cells which can generate a transit compartment of precursors named oval cells. Liver regeneration after partial hepatectomy does not involve intra or extra-hepatic (hemopoietic) stem cells but depends on the proliferation of hepatocytes. Transplantation and repopulation experiments have demonstrated that hepatocytes, which are highly differentiated and long-lived cells, have a remarkable capacity for multiple rounds of replication. In this article, we review some aspects of the regulation of hepatocyte proliferation as well as the interrelationships between hepatocytes and oval cells in different liver growth processes. We conclude that in the liver, normally quiescent differentiated cells replicate rapidly after tissue resection, while intra-hepatic precursor cells (oval cells) proliferate and generate lineage only in situations in which hepatocyte proliferation is blocked or delayed. Although bone marrow stem cells can generate oval cells and hepatocytes, transdifferentiation is very rare and inefficient.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Movement
  • Hepatocytes / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Liver Regeneration*
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Stem Cells / pathology*