Protocol for Isolation of Primary Human Hepatocytes and Corresponding Major Populations of Non-parenchymal Liver Cells

J Vis Exp. 2016 Mar 30;(109):e53069. doi: 10.3791/53069.


Beside parenchymal hepatocytes, the liver consists of non-parenchymal cells (NPC) namely Kupffer cells (KC), liver endothelial cells (LEC) and hepatic Stellate cells (HSC). Two-dimensional (2D) culture of primary human hepatocyte (PHH) is still considered as the "gold standard" for in vitro testing of drug metabolism and hepatotoxicity. It is well-known that the 2D monoculture of PHH suffers from dedifferentiation and loss of function. Recently it was shown that hepatic NPC play a central role in liver (patho-) physiology and the maintenance of PHH functions. Current research focuses on the reconstruction of in vivo tissue architecture by 3D- and co-culture models to overcome the limitations of 2D monocultures. Previously we published a method to isolate human liver cells and investigated the suitability of these cells for their use in cell cultures in Experimental Biology and Medicine(1). Based on the broad interest in this technique the aim of this article was to provide a more detailed protocol for the liver cell isolation process including a video, which will allow an easy reproduction of this technique. Human liver cells were isolated from human liver tissue samples of surgical interventions by a two-step EGTA/collagenase P perfusion technique. PHH were separated from the NPC by an initial centrifugation at 50 x g. Density gradient centrifugation steps were used for removal of dead cells. Individual liver cell populations were isolated from the enriched NPC fraction using specific cell properties and cell sorting procedures. Beside the PHH isolation we were able to separate KC, LEC and HSC for further cultivation. Taken together, the presented protocol allows the isolation of PHH and NPC in high quality and quantity from one donor tissue sample. The access to purified liver cell populations could allow the creation of in vivo like human liver models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Cell Separation / methods*
  • Coculture Techniques / methods*
  • Endothelial Cells / cytology
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / cytology*
  • Hepatocytes / cytology*
  • Humans
  • Kupffer Cells / cytology*
  • Liver / cytology*