Background & aims: Liver progenitor cells may be important in carcinogenesis resulting from human chronic liver diseases. The HepaRG cell line has been established from a liver tumor associated with chronic hepatitis C. We observed that these cells showed an evident morphological heterogeneity, displaying both hepatocyte-like and biliary-like epithelial phenotypes. Our goal was to determine whether they could share some features with liver progenitor cells.
Methods: Phenotypic studies using immunofluorescence, immunoblotting, and flow cytometry were performed at different culture stages.
Results: HepaRG cells progressively exhibited polarized and functional hepatocytes and bile duct-like cell features under defined conditions. Cytokeratin 18 and 19 coexpression was, however, observed all along the maturation process together with oval cell-specific markers (M2-PK, OV-1, OV-6, and CD34); kinetics and expression profiles were dependent on the cell population. In addition, a strong commitment toward the hepatocytic lineage could be observed in the presence of epidermal growth factor. Immunohistochemistry on the fibrotic liver showing the atypical ductular reaction from which HepaRG cells originated displayed a comparable immunophenotype specifically restricted to bile neoductules.
Conclusions: HepaRG cells constitute the first described human hepatic bipotent progenitor cell line regarding phenotype and histological origin.