The liver is a highly differentiated organ with a central role in metabolism, detoxification and systemic homeostasis. To perform its multiple tasks, liver parenchymal cells, the hepatocytes, express a large complement of enabling genes defining their complex phenotype. This phenotype is progressively acquired during fetal development and needs to be maintained in adulthood to guarantee the individual's survival. Upon injury or loss of functional mass, the liver displays an extraordinary regenerative response, mainly based on the proliferation of hepatocytes which otherwise are long-lived quiescent cells. Increasing observations suggest that loss of hepatocellular differentiation and quiescence underlie liver malfunction in chronic liver disease and pave the way for hepatocellular carcinoma development. Here, we briefly review the essential mechanisms leading to the acquisition of liver maturity. We also identify the key molecular factors involved in the preservation of hepatocellular homeostasis and finally discuss potential strategies to preserve liver identity and function.
Keywords: Cirrhosis; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Hepatocyte differentiation; Hepatocyte proliferation; Liver function; Nuclear factors; Splicing regulator.