Enhancing the functional maturity of induced pluripotent stem cell-derived human hepatocytes by controlled presentation of cell-cell interactions in vitro

Hepatology. 2015 Apr;61(4):1370-81. doi: 10.1002/hep.27621.


Induced pluripotent stem cell-derived human hepatocyte-like cells (iHeps) could provide a powerful tool for studying the mechanisms underlying human liver development and disease, testing the efficacy and safety of pharmaceuticals across different patients (i.e., personalized medicine), and enabling cell-based therapies in the clinic. However, current in vitro protocols that rely upon growth factors and extracellular matrices (ECMs) alone yield iHeps with low levels of liver functions relative to adult primary human hepatocytes (PHHs). Moreover, these low hepatic functions in iHeps are difficult to maintain for prolonged times (weeks to months) in culture. Here, we engineered a micropatterned coculture (iMPCC) platform in a multiwell format that, in contrast to conventional confluent cultures, significantly enhanced the functional maturation and longevity of iHeps in culture for at least 4 weeks in vitro when benchmarked against multiple donors of PHHs. In particular, iHeps were micropatterned onto collagen-coated domains of empirically optimized dimensions, surrounded by 3T3-J2 murine embryonic fibroblasts, and then sandwiched with a thin layer of ECM gel (Matrigel). We assessed iHep maturity by global gene expression profiles, hepatic polarity, secretion of albumin and urea, basal cytochrome P450 (CYP450) activities, phase II conjugation, drug-mediated CYP450 induction, and drug-induced hepatotoxicity.

Conclusion: Controlling both homotypic interactions between iHeps and heterotypic interactions with stromal fibroblasts significantly matures iHep functions and maintains them for several weeks in culture. In the future, iMPCCs could prove useful for drug screening, studying molecular mechanisms underlying iHep differentiation, modeling liver diseases, and integration into human-on-a-chip systems being designed to assess multiorgan responses to compounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Communication*
  • Cell Culture Techniques / instrumentation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Hepatocytes / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells*
  • Time Factors