Replicative senescence of activated human hepatic stellate cells is accompanied by a pronounced inflammatory but less fibrogenic phenotype

Hepatology. 2003 Mar;37(3):653-64. doi: 10.1053/jhep.2003.50097.


Limited proliferative capacity is a characteristic of most normal human cells and results in a growth-arrested state, called replicative senescence. Functional expression of the telomerase catalytic subunit (human telomerase reverse transcriptase; hTERT) in human activated hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) rescues them from death with immortalization and maintains an activated HSC phenotype. The aim of this study was to evaluate alterations in gene and protein expression of in vitro aged human activated HSCs and to define the pathway by which senescent-activated HSCs are eliminated in culture. Altered patterns of gene expression in senescent human HSCs were assessed using DNA microarray analysis and compared with early passage HSCs or hTERT immortalized HSCs. Senescent HSCs showed higher expression of inflammation and stress-associated genes as compared with early passage HSCs. Senescent HSCs expressed reduced levels of extracellular matrix proteins, including collagens, tenascin, and fibronectin. TUNEL staining of senescent HSCs showed approximately 21% positive cells, indicating DNA fragmentation and apoptosis. Apoptosis involved the mitochondrial pathway with decreased levels of Bcl-2 and Bcl-x(L) protein, release of cytochrome c, and increased caspase-3 activity. In contrast, 4% to 5% of early activated HSCs or telomerase positive HSCs were TUNEL positive. In conclusion, cultured human HSCs undergo a switch from a fibrogenic to an inflammatory phenotype, suggesting that senescent human HSCs might modulate chronic wound healing processes. Maintenance of telomere length represents an important survival factor for activated human HSCs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle / genetics
  • Cell Division* / genetics
  • Cell Survival
  • Cellular Senescence
  • Chemokines / genetics
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Gene Expression
  • Hepatitis*
  • Humans
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1 / genetics
  • Liver / chemistry
  • Liver / cytology*
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Phenotype*
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / analysis
  • Telomerase / genetics
  • Vascular Cell Adhesion Molecule-1 / genetics
  • beta-Galactosidase / analysis


  • Chemokines
  • Cytokines
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Vascular Cell Adhesion Molecule-1
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1
  • Telomerase
  • beta-Galactosidase
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases