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Abstract

During liver regeneration after partial hepatectomy, normally quiescent hepatocytes undergo one or two rounds of replication to restore the liver mass by a process of compensatory hyperplasia. A large number of genes are involved in liver regeneration, but the essential circuitry required for the process may be categorized into three networks: cytokine, growth factor and metabolic. There is much redundancy within each network, and intricate interactions exist between them. Thus, loss of function from a single gene rarely leads to complete blockage of liver regeneration. The innate immune system plays an important role in the initiation of liver regeneration after partial hepatectomy, and new cytokines and receptors that participate in initiation mechanisms have been identified. Hepatocytes primed by these agents readily respond to growth factors and enter the cell cycle. Presumably, the increased metabolic demands placed on hepatocytes of the regenerating liver are linked to the machinery needed for hepatocyte replication, and may function as a sensor that calibrates the regenerative response according to body demands. In contrast to the regenerative process after partial hepatectomy, which is driven by the replication of existing hepatocytes, liver repopulation after acute liver failure depends on the differentiation of progenitor cells. Such cells are also present in chronic liver diseases, but their contribution to the production of hepatocytes in those conditions is unknown. Most of the new knowledge about the molecular and cellular mechanisms of liver regeneration is both conceptually important and directly relevant to clinical problems. (Hepatology 2006;43:S45–S53.)