Comparison of glial fibrillary acidic protein and desmin staining in normal and CCl4-induced fibrotic rat livers



Fat-storing cells are the major producers of extracellular matrix in the liver. A good immunocytochemical marker is, however, still lacking for this cell type. Desmin, frequently used by most investigators, fails to stain many pericentral fat-storing cells in normal rat liver. The aim of the present study is to evaluate glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) as an alternative marker of fat-storing cells. In normal rat liver, immunostaining of GFAP revealed numerous fat-storing cells with characteristic cytoplasmic extensions. Unlike desmin, which was preferentially expressed in periportal fat-storing cells, GFAP-positive fat-storing cells were distributed more evenly in the lobules. In a narrow periportal zone, however, GFAP-positive cells were occasionally absent. Dual GFAP/desmin staining revealed colocalization of these markers, but fat-storing cells positive only for GFAP or desmin were also present. Chronic carbon tetrachloride exposure induced a spatial change in the expression of GFAP and desmin. At 3 weeks, accumulation of GFAP/desmin double-positive cells was observed in developing fibrotic septa. At 8 weeks, the GFAP positivity in the septa persisted but became weak, while desmin expression became stronger. In contrast, the expression of GFAP within the lobule was gradually decreased as fibrosis progressed. We conclude that GFAP is expressed by a subpopulation of fat-storing cells, which differs partially from the population that expresses desmin. Because in normal rat liver desmin- negative fat-storing cells can be identified by GFAP staining and vice versa, dual GFAP/desmin staining allows more complete identification of fat-storing cells. In chronically injured liver, GFAP may not be as useful as in normal rat liver. The coexpression of GFAP/desmin in developing septa and the subsequent downregulation of GFAP in an advanced stage of fibrosis may reflect different stages of fat-storing cell activation. Further investigation is required to determine the functional significance of alteration of GFAP expression in fat-storing cells.