Evidence for Mesenchymal−Epithelial Transition Associated with Mouse Hepatic Stem Cell Differentiation

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Evidence for Mesenchymal−Epithelial Transition Associated with Mouse Hepatic Stem Cell Differentiation

Public Library of Science
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017092
  • Biology
  • Medicine
  • Stem Cells
  • Developmental Biology
  • Research Article
  • Liver Diseases
  • Epithelial Cells
  • Embryonic Stem Cells
  • Obstetrics And Gynecology
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells
  • Adult Stem Cells
  • Molecular Cell Biology
  • Gastroenterology And Hepatology
  • Cellular Types
  • Labor And Delivery


Mesenchymal−epithelial transition events are related to embryonic development, tissue construction, and wound healing. Stem cells are involved in all of these processes, at least in part. However, the direct evidence of mesenchymal−epithelial transition associated with stem cells is unclear. To determine whether mesenchymal−epithelial transition occurs in liver development and/or the differentiation process of hepatic stem cells in vitro, we analyzed a variety of murine liver tissues from embryonic day 11.5 to adults and the colonies derived from hepatic stem/progenitor cells isolated with flow cytometry. The results of gene expression, immunohistochemistry and Western blot showed that as liver develops, the expression of epithelial markers such as Cytokeratin18 and E-cadherin increase, while expression of mesenchymal markers such as vimentin and N-cadherin decreased. On the other hand, in freshly isolated hepatic stem cells, the majority of cells (65.0%) co-express epithelial and mesenchymal markers; this proportion is significantly higher than observed in hematopoietic cells, non-hematopoietic cells and non-stem cell fractions. Likewise, in stem cell-derived colonies cultured over time, upregulation of epithelial genes (Cytokeratin-18 and E-cadherin) occurred simultaneously with downregulation of mesenchymal genes (vimentin and Snail1). Furthermore, in the fetal liver, vimentin-positive cells in the non-hematopoietic fraction had distinct proliferative activity and expressed early the hepatic lineage marker alpha-fetoprotein. Conclusion Hepatic stem cells co-express mesenchymal and epithelial markers; the mesenchymal−epithelial transition occurred in both liver development and differentiation of hepatic stem/progenitor cells in vitro. Besides as a mesenchymal marker, vimentin is a novel indicator for cell proliferative activity and undifferentiated status in liver cells.

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