Expansion, in vivo-ex vivo cycling, and genetic manipulation of primary human hepatocytes

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jan 21;117(3):1678-1688. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1919035117. Epub 2020 Jan 8.


Primary human hepatocytes (PHHs) are an essential tool for modeling drug metabolism and liver disease. However, variable plating efficiencies, short lifespan in culture, and resistance to genetic manipulation have limited their use. Here, we show that the pyrrolizidine alkaloid retrorsine improves PHH repopulation of chimeric mice on average 10-fold and rescues the ability of even poorly plateable donor hepatocytes to provide cells for subsequent ex vivo cultures. These mouse-passaged (mp) PHH cultures overcome the marked donor-to-donor variability of cryopreserved PHH and remain functional for months as demonstrated by metabolic assays and infection with hepatitis B virus and Plasmodium falciparum mpPHH can be efficiently genetically modified in culture, mobilized, and then recultured as spheroids or retransplanted to create highly humanized mice that carry a genetically altered hepatocyte graft. Together, these advances provide flexible tools for the study of human liver disease and evaluation of hepatocyte-targeted gene therapy approaches.

Keywords: hepatitis B virus; hepatotropic pathogens; humanized mice; liver; primary human hepatocytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Transplantation
  • Chimera
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis B virus
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects*
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism*
  • Hepatocytes / transplantation
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Humans
  • Hydrolases / genetics
  • Interleukin Receptor Common gamma Subunit / genetics
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Diseases / genetics*
  • Liver Diseases / pathology
  • Malaria
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids / pharmacology*


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Il2rg protein, mouse
  • Interleukin Receptor Common gamma Subunit
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids
  • RAG-1 protein
  • Hydrolases
  • fumarylacetoacetase
  • retrorsine