"Thinking" vs. "Talking": Differential Autocrine Inflammatory Networks in Isolated Primary Hepatic Stellate Cells and Hepatocytes under Hypoxic Stress

Front Physiol. 2017 Dec 22;8:1104. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.01104. eCollection 2017.


We hypothesized that isolated primary mouse hepatic stellate cells (HSC) and hepatocytes (HC) would elaborate different inflammatory responses to hypoxia with or without reoxygenation. We further hypothesized that intracellular information processing ("thinking") differs from extracellular information transfer ("talking") in each of these two liver cell types. Finally, we hypothesized that the complexity of these autocrine responses might only be defined in the absence of other non-parenchymal cells or trafficking leukocytes. Accordingly, we assayed 19 inflammatory mediators in the cell culture media (CCM) and whole cell lysates (WCLs) of HSC and HC during hypoxia with and without reoxygenation. We applied a unique set of statistical and data-driven modeling techniques including Two-Way ANOVA, hierarchical clustering, Principal Component Analysis (PCA) and Network Analysis to define the inflammatory responses of these isolated cells to stress. HSC, under hypoxic and reoxygenation stresses, both expressed and secreted larger quantities of nearly all inflammatory mediators as compared to HC. These differential responses allowed for segregation of HSC from HC by hierarchical clustering. PCA suggested, and network analysis supported, the hypothesis that above a certain threshold of cellular stress, the inflammatory response becomes focused on a limited number of functions in both HSC and HC, but with distinct characteristics in each cell type. Network analysis of separate extracellular and intracellular inflammatory responses, as well as analysis of the combined data, also suggested the presence of more complex inflammatory "talking" (but not "thinking") networks in HSC than in HC. This combined network analysis also suggested an interplay between intracellular and extracellular mediators in HSC under more conditions than that observed in HC, though both cell types exhibited a qualitatively similar phenotype under hypoxia/reoxygenation. Our results thus suggest that a stepwise series of computational and statistical analyses may help decipher how cells respond to environmental stresses, both within the cell and in its secretory products, even in the absence of cooperation from other cells in the liver.

Keywords: cytokines; hepatocyte; hypoxia; liver; stellate cell; systems biology.