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Abstract

Although it was proposed almost 60 years ago that the adult mammalian liver contains hepatic stem cells, this issue remains controversial. Part of the problem is that no specific marker gene unique to the adult hepatic stem cell has yet been identified, and regeneration of the liver after acute injury is achieved through proliferation of adult hepatocytes and does not require activation or proliferation of stem cells. Also, there are differences in the expected properties of stem versus progenitor cells, and we attempt to use specific criteria to distinguish between these cell types. We review the evidence for each of these cell types in the adult versus embryonic/fetal liver, where tissue-specific stem cells are known to exist and to be involved in organ development. This review is limited to studies directed toward identification of hepatic epithelial stem cells and does not address the controversial issue of whether stem cells derived from the bone marrow have hepatocytic potential, a topic that has been covered extensively in other recent reviews. (Hepatology 2006;43:S89–S98.)