Endothelial liver cells were obtained from guinea pig by enzymatic digestion and centrifugal elutriation. Cells were cultured on gelatin and fibronectin pretreated culture vessels. Endothelial cells were characterized by phase-contrast microscopy, electron microscopy and the presence of Factor VIII-related antigen. Fibronectin secretion was determined in cell-free supernatants by a sensitive and specific ELISA and localized on fixed cultured cells by immunofluorescence. [35S]Methionine endogeneously labeled fibronectin was immunoprecipitated from supernatants and cellular lysates and displayed on sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide slab gel electrophoresis.
After attachment to the culture vessel, one day after plating, endothelial cells start to produce fibronectin as measured by ELISA and demonstrated by immunoprecipitation and sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Secretion of fibronectin increases as cells proliferate to form a confluent monolayer. By immunofluorescence, fibronectin is visualized inside permeabilized cells and as a fibrillar network on the cell surface. Underneath the cell bodies, fibronectin-positive material is present as short strands. From supernatants and cellular lysates, fibronectin is immunoprecipitated with an apparent Mr of about 235,000 obviously larger than plasma fibronectin with an Mr of 220,000, which behaves electrophoretically like fibronectin isolated from early hepatocyte cultures. As endothelial cells incorporate [3H]fucose in fibronectin, whereas hepatocytes do not, we conclude that endothelial cells in contrast to hepatocytes produce cellular fibronectin. Endothelial cells, therefore, are probably the cellular source of the fibronectin present in the space of Disse. The significance of this finding with respect to fibrotic liver disease is discussed.