Comparison of liver progenitor cells in human atypical ductular reactions with those seen in experimental models of liver injury


  • Stewart Sell 47 New Scotland Ave.

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Albany Medical College, Albany, NY
    • Albany, NY 12209-3479. Fax: (518) 262-5927
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The ultrastructural characteristics of liver progenitor cell types of human atypical ductular reactions seen in chronic cholestasis, in regenerating human liver after submassive necrosis, in alcoholic liver disease, and in focal nodular hyperplasia are compared with liver progenitor cell types seen during experimental cholangiocarcinogenesis in hamsters; during hepatocarcinogenesis in rats; and in response to periportal liver injury induced by allyl alcohol in rats. Three types of progenitor cells have been identified in human atypical ductular reactions: type I: primitive, has an oval shape, marginal chromatin, few cellular organelles, rare tonofilaments, and forms desmosomal junctions with adjacent liver cells; type II: bile duct–like, is located within ducts, has few organelles, and forms lateral membrane interdigitations with other duct-like cells; and type III: hepatocyte-like, is located in hepatic cords, forms a bile canaliculus, has tight junctions with other hepatocyte-like cells, prominent mitochondria and rough endoplasmic reticulum, and some have lysosomes and a poorly developed Golgi apparatus. Each type is seen during cholangiocarcinogenesis in hamsters, but the most prominent cell type is type II, duct-like. A more primitive cell type (“type 0 cell”), as well as type I cells, are seen in the intraportal zone of the liver within 1 to 2 days after carcinogen exposure or periportal injury in the rat, but both type II and type III are seen later as the progenitor cells expand into the liver lobule. After allyl alcohol injury, type 0 cells precede the appearance of type I and type III cells, but most of the cells that span the periportal necrotic zone are type III hepatocyte-like cells showing different degrees of hepatocytic differentiation. Some type II cells are also seen, but these are essentially limited to ducts. It is concluded that there is a primitive stem cell type in the liver (type 0) that may differentiate directly into type I and then into type II, duct-like or or type III hepatocyte-like cells. The terms oval cell, transitional hepatocyte, biliary hepatocyte, hepatocyte-like cell, atypical ductular cell, neocholangiole, etc., are used to describe these cells. Although these terms are useful as general descriptive terms for liver precursor cells at the light microscopic level, the cells included in these descriptive categories may be very different from one another biologically and ultrastructurally.