Structure and function of sinusoidal lining cells in the liver

Toxicol Pathol. Jan-Feb 1996;24(1):100-11. doi: 10.1177/019262339602400114.


The hepatic sinusoid harbors 4 different cells: endothelial cells (100, 101), Kupffer cells (96, 102, 103), fat-storing cells (34, 51, 93), and pit cells (14, 107, 108). Each cell type has its own specific morphology and functions, and no transitional stages exist between the cells. These cells have the potential to proliferate locally, either in normal or in special conditions, that is, experiments or disease. Sinusoidal cells from a functional unit together with the parenchymal cells. Isolation protocols exist for all sinusoidal cells. Endothelial cells filter the fluids, exchanged between the sinusoid and the space of Disse through fenestrae (100), which measure 175 nm in diameter and are grouped in sieve plates. Fenestrae occupy 6-8% of the surface (106). No intact basal lamina is present under these cells (100). Various factors change the number and diameter of fenestrae [pressure, alcohol, serotonin, and nicotin; for a review, see Fraser et al (32)]. These changes mainly affect the passage of lipoproteins, which contain cholesterol and vitamin A among other components. Fat-storing cells are pericytes, located in the space of Disse, with long, contractile processes, which probably influence liver (sinusoidal) blood flow. Fat-storing cells possess characteristic fat droplets, which contain a large part of the body's depot of vitamin A (91, 93). These cells play a major role in the synthesis of extracellular matrix (ECM) (34, 39-41). Strongly reduced levels of vitamin A occur in alcoholic livers developing fibrosis (56). Vitamin A deficiency transforms fat-storing cells into myofibroblast-like cells with enhanced ECM production (38). Kupffer cells accumulate in periportal areas. They specifically endocytose endotoxin (70), which activates these macrophages. Lipopolysaccharide, together with interferon gamma, belongs to the most potent activators of Kupffer cells (28). As a result of activation, these cells secrete oxygen radicals, tumor necrosis factor, interleukin 1, interleukin 6, and a series of eicosanoids (28) and become cytotoxic against tumor cells [e.g., colon carcinoma cells (19, 22, 48)]. Toxic secretory products can cause necrosis of the liver parenchyma, which constitutes a crucial factor in liver transplantation (55). Pit cells possess characteristic azurophylic granules and display a high level of spontaneous cytolytic activity against various tumor cells, identifying themselves as natural killer cells (10). The number and cytotoxicity of pit cells can be considerably enhanced with biological response modifiers, such as Zymosan or interleukin 2 (8). Pit cell proliferation occurs within the liver, but recent evidence indicates that blood large granular lymphocytes develop into pit cells in 2 steps involving high- and low-density pit cells (88). Kupffer cells control the motility, adherence, viability, and cytotoxicity of pit cells (89), whereas cytotoxicity against tumor cells is synergistically enhanced (80, 81).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endothelium, Vascular / cytology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Liver / blood supply*
  • Liver / physiology*
  • Liver / ultrastructure