Coculture with mesenchymal stem cells results in improved viability and function of human hepatocytes

Cell Transplant. 2015;24(1):73-83. doi: 10.3727/096368913X674080. Epub 2013 Oct 18.


Hepatocyte transplantation is becoming an accepted therapy for acute liver failure, either as a bridge to liver regeneration or to organ transplantation. Hepatocytes provide liver function in place of the failing organ. The maintenance of sufficient viability and function of the transplanted hepatocytes is a concern. There is a lot of recent interest in mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) for the provision of structural and trophic support to hepatocytes, but few studies currently use primary human hepatocytes. The aim of this study was to investigate if coculture of human MSCs with cryopreserved human hepatocytes may improve their function and viability, thus with potential for cellular therapy of liver disease. MSCs were isolated from human umbilical cord or adipose tissue. Hepatocytes were isolated from donor organs unsuitable for transplantation. MSCs and hepatocytes were cocultured in both direct and indirect contact. Conditioned medium (CM) from cocultured MSCs and hepatocytes was also used on hepatocytes. Viability and liver-specific function were compared between test and controls. Human hepatocytes that were cocultured directly with MSCs demonstrated improved production of albumin from day 5 to day 25 of culture. This effect was most prominent at day 15. Likewise, urea production was improved in coculture from day 5 to 25. Indirect coculture demonstrated improved albumin production by day 4 (1,107 ng/ml) versus hepatocyte monoculture (940 ng/ml). Hepatocytes in CM demonstrated a nonsignificant improvement in function. The viability of cocultured hepatocytes was superior to that of monocultured cells with up to a 16% improvement. Thus, coculture of human hepatocytes with MSCs demonstrates both improved function and viability. The effect is seen mainly with direct coculture but can also be seen in indirect culture and with CM. Such coculture conditions may convey major advantages in hepatocyte survival and function for cell transplantation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Survival
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Female
  • Hepatocytes / cytology
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Time Factors