Background and objectives: Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) elicit therapeutic effects against liver fibrosis in animal models. Human liver stem cells (HLSCs) are cells isolated from human liver tissue that have mesenchymal morphology and express MSC markers. HLSCs also possess intrahepatic stem cell properties. We introduce a rat model of liver fibrosis and trans-portal transplantation of HLSC to demonstrate alleviation of liver fibrosis.
Methods and results: Liver fibrosis was induced by intraperitoneal injection of Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4). Sprague Dawley rats underwent simultaneous partial hepatectomy of the left hepatic lobe and HLSC transplantation via the portal vein. Gross appearance of the liver observed following CCl4 injection showed cholestasis and surface nodularity. Sirius red staining revealed deposition of collagen fibers in the extracellular matrix (ECM). Following HLSC transplantation, human albumin secreting cells were detected by immunohistochemistry in liver specimens. Quantitative measurements of fibrosis area stained by Sirius red were compared between baseline and post-HLSC transplant (1×107 cells) following 10 weeks of CCl4 treatment liver specimens. Fibrosis area (p<0.05), serum markers of liver inflammation and fibrosis (AST, ALT levels and APRI, p<0.05) significantly decreased from baseline after HLSC transplantation. RNA expression in liver tissues revealed significant decrease in tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinase 1 (TIMP1), TIMP2 expression and increase in hepatocyte growth factor expression following HLSC transplantation (p<0.05).
Conclusions: HLSC transplantation effectively reduced the area of liver fibrosis with increased expression of factors promoting ECM degradation. These findings suggest the potential therapeutic role of HLSCs in various liver diseases presenting with liver fibrosis.
Keywords: Human liver stem cell; Liver fibrosis; Mesenchymal stem cell; Stem cell transplantation.