Stem cells responsible for tissue maintenance and repair are found in a number of organs. However, hepatic stem cells assumed to play a key role in liver development and regeneration remain to be well characterized. To address this issue, we set up a culture system in which primitive hepatic progenitor cells formed colonies. By combining this culture system with fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS), cells forming colonies containing distinct hepatocytes and cholangiocytes were identified in the fetal mouse liver. These cells express both CD49f and CD29 (α6 and β1 integrin subunits), but do not mark for hematopoietic antigens such as CD45, TER119, and c-Kit. When transplanted into the spleen, these cells migrated to the recipient liver and differentiated into liver parenchymal cells. Our data demonstrate that hepatic progenitor cells are enriched by FACS and suggest approaches to supplanting organ allografting and improving artificial-organ hepatic support.
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