Ultrastructural localization of integrin subunits alpha3 and alpha6 in capillarized sinusoids of the human cirrhotic liver

Histol Histopathol. 2004 Jul;19(3):799-806. doi: 10.14670/HH-19.799.


Normal liver sinusoids are not lined by a basement membrane (BM). In contrast, in the course of development of liver cirrhosis, a structured BM is formed de novo in the space of Disse. This BM contributes to the inhibition of the metabolic function of the liver but the pathogenic background of the formation of this perisinusoidal BM is still unclear. Integrins of the beta1-class are generally essential for BM stability and some of them (such as alpha2beta1, alpha3beta1 and alpha6beta1) appear de novo in the perisinusoidal space of the cirrhotic liver. Their cellular distribution in capillarized sinusoids as well as the correlation between their cellular distribution and the formation of the microvascular BM in the cirrhotic liver has not been shown at the ultrastructural level. In the present work we aimed to clarify this issue. We focused on integrins alpha3beta1 and alpha6beta1 and localised them ultrastructurally in human cirrhotic liver microvessels using postembedding immunogold which allows the ultrastructural localization of antigens with high resolution in the tissue. The newly formed basement membrane of capillarized sinusoids was visualized by means of fixation with addition of tannic acid, which enables the visualization of structures of the extracellular matrix with the highest resolution. Also, we carried out laminin detection using postembedding immunogold. Our results show that both alpha3beta1 and alpha6beta1 are expressed on the surface of both hepatocytes and endothelial cells, i.e. on both sides of the newly formed basement membrane. This latter shows zones of higher density both in close proximity to the endothelial and to the hepatocytic surfaces which resemble laminae densae. We propose that hepatocytes and endothelial cells may, therefore, by expressing such integrins, contribute to the formation of this pathological BM in the microvessels of the human cirrhotic liver. On stellate cells, which are major producers of BM components, both integrins alpha3beta1 and alpha6beta1 were also localized.

MeSH terms

  • Basement Membrane / pathology
  • Basement Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Endothelium, Vascular / chemistry
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Endothelium, Vascular / ultrastructure
  • Hepatocytes / chemistry
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Hepatocytes / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Integrin alpha3
  • Integrin alpha6
  • Integrins / immunology
  • Integrins / metabolism*
  • Integrins / ultrastructure
  • Liver Circulation*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / metabolism*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Protein Subunits / genetics
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism*


  • Integrin alpha3
  • Integrin alpha6
  • Integrins
  • Protein Subunits