Induction of murine hepatocyte death by membrane-bound CD95 (Fas/APO-1)-ligand: Characterization of an in Vitro system



Hepatocytes constitutively express CD95 (also called Fas/APO-1) and are therefore potential targets for CD95-ligand (CD95L)-mediated injury. To study this mechanism of cell death in hepatocytes we developed an in vitro model of liver cell apoptosis using membrane-bound CD95L as the inducing agent. Primary mouse hepatocytes were cocultured with NIH 3T3 fibroblasts, stably transfected with mouse CD95L (FCD95L+). Fibroblasts stably transfected with vector only (FCD95L−) served as controls. Hepatocytes from mice expressing low levels of CD95 (Faslprmice) served as controls for effects unrelated to CD95. Morphologic and biochemical studies indicate that CD95 is expressed in cultured mouse hepatocytes. Membrane-bound CD95 from transfected fibroblasts destroyed all cocultured hepatocytes within 24 hours in the absence of protein synthesis inhibitors. Characteristic features of apoptosis were observed in dying hepatocytes and occurred in the following sequence: formation of cytoplasmic blebs and nuclear condensation after 3 hours; nuclear fragmentation and DNA strand breaks after 4 hours. These changes were observed only when normal hepatocytes were cocultured with FCD95L+ and were not observed with FCD95L− or in hepatocytes from Faslpr mice. Anti-CD95 antibody (Jo2) evoked similar changes in hepatocytes, although to a much lesser extent. We conclude that coculture of mouse hepatocytes with FCD95L+ is a useful in vitro model for CD95-mediated apoptosis induced by CD95L. The high incidence of apoptosis caused by membrane-bound CD95L differs from the much smaller effects induced by the Jo2 antibody. In view of the high sensitivity of hepatocytes towards CD95L we speculate that CD95L-induced liver damage in vivo may be minimized by restricting exposure of hepatocytes to CD95L.