Liver progenitor cells as well as hepatic stellate cells have neuroendocrine features. Progenitor cells express chromogranin-A and neural cell adhesion molecule, parathyroid hormone-related peptide, S-100 protein, neurotrophins, and neurotrophin receptors, while hepatic stellate cells express synaptophysin, glial fibrillary acidic protein, neural cell adhesion molecule, nestin, neurotrophins, and their receptors. This phenotype suggests that these cell types form a neuroendocrine compartment of the liver, which could be under the control of the central nervous system. We recently showed that the parasympathetic nervous system promotes progenitor cell expansion after liver injury, since selective vagotomy reduces the number of progenitor cells after chemical injury in the rat. Similarly, after transplantation, which surgically denervates the liver, human livers that develop hepatitis have fewer progenitor cells than native, fully innervated livers with similar degrees of liver injury. There is also accumulating experimental evidence linking the autonomic system, in particular the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), with the pathogenesis of cirrhosis and its complications. Recently, it has been shown that hepatic stellate cells themselves respond to neurotransmitters. Moreover, inhibition of the SNS reduced fibrosis in carbon tetrachloride-induced liver injury. In view of the denervated state of transplanted livers, it is very important to unravel the neural control mechanisms of regeneration and fibrogenesis. Moreover, since there is a shortage of donor organs, a better understanding of the mechanisms of regeneration could have therapeutic possibilities, which could even obviate the need for orthotopic liver transplantation.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.