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Keywords:

  • liver;
  • cell transplantation;
  • mesenchymal stem cells;
  • hepatocytes

Abstract

The liver has an enormous potential to restore the parenchymal tissue loss due to injury. This is accomplished by the proliferation of either the hepatocytes or liver progenitor cells in cases where massive damage prohibits hepatocytes from entering the proliferative response. Under debate is still whether hepatic stem cells are involved in liver tissue maintenance and regeneration or even whether they exist at all. The definition of an adult tissue-resident stem cell comprises basic functional stem cell criteria like the potential of self-renewal, multipotent, i.e. at least bipotent differentiation capacity and serial transplantability featuring the ability of functional tissue repopulation. The relationship between a progenitor and its progeny should exemplify the lineage commitment from the putative stem cell to the differentiated cell. This is mainly assessed by lineage tracing and immunohistochemical identification of markers specific to progenitors and their descendants. Flow cytometry approaches revealed that the liver stem cell population in animals is likely to be heterogeneous giving rise to progeny with different molecular signatures, depending on the stimulus to activate the putative stem cell compartment. The stem cell criteria are met by a variety of cells identified in the fetal and adult liver both under normal and injury conditions. It is the purpose of this review to verify hepatic stem cell candidates in the light of the stem cell definition criteria mentioned. Also from this point of view adult stem cells from non-hepatic tissues such as bone marrow, umbilical cord blood or adipose tissue, have the potential to differentiate into cells featuring functional hepatocyte characteristics. This has great impact because it opens the possibility of generating hepatocyte-like cells from adult stem cells in a sufficient amount and quality for their therapeutical application to treat end-stage liver diseases by stem cell-based hepatocytes in place of whole organ transplantation. © 2012 International Society for Advancement of Cytometry