MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a versatile class of tiny non-coding RNAs involved in regulation of various biological processes. miRNA-122 (miR-122) is specifically and abundantly expressed in human liver. However, the role of miR-122 in differentiation of fetal liver stem/progenitor cells into hepatocytes remains unclear. In this study, dual positive CD34+/CD117+ expressing human fetal liver stem/progenitor cells was enriched by magnetic cell sorting and cultured in vitro. The level of miR-122 was found to be increased at specific time intervals. Interestingly, during the differentiation process of hepatocyte-like cells, the increase in expression of miR-122 was positively correlated with expression of hepatocyte-specific genes. The status of differentiation process was improved by transfection of miR-122 into enriched stem/progenitor cells. The expression level of hepatic-specific genes as well as liver-enriched transcription factors (LETFs) was significantly increased by overexpression of miR-122 in fetal liver stem/progenitor cells. Thus, the study delineated the role of hepato-specific miR-122 in differentiation of fetal liver stem/progenitor cells into hepatocyte-like cells which could be used as a therapeutic target molecule to generate abundant hepatocytes. J. Cell. Biochem. 114: 1575–1583, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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