A stem cell environment, or “niche”, is believed
to maintain the liver progenitor cell in its native state, and allows for regulatory signals to activate it when required.108 The companion supportive cells in this niche have long been suspected to be mesenchymal cells, such as portal fibroblasts, hepatic stellate cells or vascular endothelial cells.75 Yovchev et al. reported that these cells are CD90 positive, explaining the previous misinterpretation of CD90 as a stem cell marker.64 More recent in vitro work suggests that angioblasts, CD133 or CD117 cells co-expressing vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2 (VEGF R2), maintain and encourage the proliferation of progenitor cells in their Bioactive Compound Library native state. Other cell types, such as endothelial and hepatic stellate cells, support their differentiation into different lineages.109 Multiple autocrine and paracrine factors have been reported to activate liver progenitor cells, and have been discussed in detail in excellent recent reviews.110,111 These include inflammatory cytokines, which are similar to those that stimulate mature hepatocyte proliferation and include
the IWR-1 research buy IL6 family, IL18, TNFα, interferon α and γ, stem cell factor, stromal derived factor (SDF-1), lymphotoxin beta, TNF-like weak inducer of apoptosis (TWEAK)112 and even the sympathetic nervous system. More recent discoveries include regulatory proteins such as MERLIN,113 which acts
on the EGFR to regulate progenitor cell proliferation; Foxl1,114 a mesenchymal forkhead winged helix factor that may come from surrounding portal fibroblasts, and the Wnt/sonic hedgehog pathways that trigger ductal proliferation in alcoholic steatohepatitis.115,116 Other paracrine messengers from neighboring mesenchymal cells include HGF, FGF, and TGFα and β.111 Interestingly, these factors appear to have opposite effects on hepatocytes and progenitors, which may explain the regulatory mechanisms that transfer regeneration from one compartment to the other.116 Extracellular matrix from surrounding cells is also thought to be important.117 PIK3C2G Nevertheless, while there have been a wealth of studies on the mechanisms that regulate activation, proliferation, migration and differentiation of progenitor cells, translation into clinical intervention has not been forthcoming, underlying the complexities of manipulating network regulation. Repopulating the damaged liver is the key goal of progenitor cell therapy for liver failure. Multiple candidate cells of origin have been explored and several cell types have been shown to be able to differentiate in vitro into hepatocyte-like cells and repopulate animal models of liver injury.110,118 In general, these candidate progenitor cells are classified into the upstream progenitors: fetal liver progenitors, embryonic stem cells (ESC) and induced pluripotent cells (IPSC).