Epithelial-mesenchymal transition of cultured rat neonatal hepatocytes is differentially regulated in response to epidermal growth factor and dimethyl sulfoxide



Neonatal rat hepatocytes cultured in the absence of added growth factors dedifferentiate by epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). This involves the loss of their typical differentiation markers, the acquisition of a migrating morphology, and a change in the expression of the intermediate filament (IF) proteins. We attempted to determine whether the EMT of cultured neonatal rat hepatocytes could be modulated by factors that maintain and promote the differentiation state of adult and fetal hepatocytes such as epidermal growth factor (EGF) and dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). By (3H)-thymidine incorporation, Western blotting analysis, flow cytometry, and double-immunofluorescence studies, we found that both factors have marked but opposite effects on the EMT and on proliferation of neonatal liver cells. In DMSO treatment, albumin levels were higher than in the nontreated cells at all days studied. Moreover, DMSO reduced cytokeratin levels and inhibited cell proliferation, acquisition of the fibroblast-like morphology, and vimentin expression typical of the EMT. The increase in vimentin-positive cells in serum-free medium was not observed in DMSO cultures. EGF also increased albumin levels at all days studied. In contrast, EGF treatment induced hepatocyte proliferation and enhanced vimentin and cytokeratin expression. However, the increase in vimentin levels did not correlate with a significant increase in the number of vimentin-positive cells. Moreover, vimentin-positive cells in EGF treatment were also cytokeratin-positive and albumin-positive, and they maintained epithelioid morphology in spite of the vimentin network. These results indicate that EMT of cultured rat neonatal hepatocytes is differentially regulated in response to EGF and DMSO.