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Abstract

Previously, we reported a system to enrich mouse fetal hepatic progenitor cells (HPCs) by forming cell aggregates. In this study, we sorted two cell populations, CD49f+Thy1CD45 cells (CD49f-postive cells) and CD49f±Thy1+CD45 cells (Thy1-positive cells), from the cell aggregates using a flow cytometer. CD49f-positive cells stained positive for endodermal specific markers such as α-fetoprotein (AFP), albumin (ALB), and cytokeratin 19 (CK19), and are thus thought to be HPCs. However, Thy1-positive cells were a morphologically heterogeneous population; reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and immunocytochemical analyses revealed the expression of mesenchymal cell markers such as α-smooth muscle actin, desmin, and vimentin, but not of AFP, ALB, or CK19. Therefore, Thy1-positive cells were thought to be of a mesenchymal lineage. When these two cell populations were co-cultured, the CD49f-positive colonies matured morphologically and stored a significant amount of glycogen. Furthermore, real-time RT-PCR demonstrated an increased expression of tyrosine amino transferase and tryptophan oxygenase mRNA, and transmission electron microscopy confirmed that co-cultured cells produced mature hepatocytes. However, when CD49f-positive cells were cultured alone or when the two populations were cultured separately, the CD49f-positive cells did not mature. These results indicate that CD49f-positive cells are primitive hepatic endodermal cells with the capacity to differentiate into hepatocytes, and that Thy1-positive cells promote the maturation of CD49f-positive cells by direct cell-to-cell contact. In conclusion, we were able to isolate CD49f-positive primitive hepatic endodermal cells and Thy1-positive mesenchymal cells and to demonstrate the requirement of cell-to-cell contact between these cell types for the maturation of the hepatic precursors. (HEPATOLOGY 2004;39:1362–1370.)