Background & aims: Liver fibrosis and cirrhosis result from the excessive secretion of matrix proteins by hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). Previously considered irreversible, we have studied a model of cirrhosis to determine the mechanisms mediating and limiting spontaneous recovery.
Methods: A micronodular cirrhosis was induced in rats after 12 weeks of CCl(4) intoxication. Livers were analyzed for evidence of matrix degradation, matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase (TIMP) expression, stellate cell apoptosis, tissue transglutaminase (tTg) expression, and matrix cross-linking during spontaneous recovery of up to 366 days.
Results: Over 366 days of recovery, micronodular cirrhosis underwent significant remodeling to a macronodular cirrhosis. Expression of collagen-1 and TIMP messenger RNA (mRNA) decreased significantly and active MMPs were shown in livers during remodeling of fibrosis. Resolution also was characterized by apoptosis of HSCs, predominantly at the margins of fibrotic septa. Residual septa, not remodeled at 366 days, were characterized by tTg-mediated cross-linking and relative hypocellularity.
Conclusion: Recovery from comparatively advanced cirrhosis is possible and results in remodeling from a micronodular cirrhosis to a macronodular cirrhosis. We suggest resolution is limited by tTg-mediated matrix cross-linking and a failure of HSC apoptosis.