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Exploring interactions between rat hepatocytes and nonparenchymal cells using gene expression profiling

Authors


Abstract

Cocultivation of primary hepatocytes with a plethora of nonparenchymal cells (from within and outside the liver) has been shown to support hepatic functions in vitro. Despite significant investigation into this phenomenon, the molecular mechanism underlying epithelial–nonparenchymal interactions in hepatocyte cocultures remains poorly understood. In this study, we present a functional genomic approach utilizing gene expression profiling to isolate molecular mediators potentially involved in induction of liver-specific functions by nonparenchymal cells. Specifically, primary rat hepatocytes were cocultivated with closely related murine fibroblast cell types (3T3-J2, NIH-3T3, mouse embryonic fibroblasts) to allow their classification as “high,” “medium,” or “low” inducers of hepatic functions. These functional responses were correlated with fibroblast gene expression profiles obtained using Affymetrix GeneChips. Microarray data analysis provided us with 17 functionally characterized candidate genes in the cell communication category (cell surface, extracellular matrix, secreted factors) that may be involved in induction of hepatic functions. Further analysis using various databases (i.e., PubMed, GenBank) facilitated prioritization of the candidates for functional characterization. We experimentally validated the potential role of two candidates in our coculture model. The cell surface protein, neural cadherin (N-cadherin), was localized to hepatocyte–fibroblast junctions, while adsorbed decorin up-regulated hepatic functions in pure cultures as well as cocultures with low-inducing fibroblasts. In the future, identifying mediators of hepatocyte differentiation may have implications for both fundamental hepatology and cell-based therapies (e.g., bioartificial liver devices). In conclusion, the functional genomic approach presented in this study may be utilized to investigate mechanisms of cell–cell interaction in a variety of tissues and disease states. (HEPATOLOGY 2004;40:545–554.)

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