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Keywords:

  • adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ADMSC);
  • adipose tissue;
  • hepatic differentiation;
  • mesenchymal stem cells (MSC)

Abstract

Background: Increasing evidence suggests that adipose tissue contains mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) that possess the ability to transdifferentiate into other cell types including hepatocytes, similar to bone marrow-derived stem cells. The existence of precommitted cells in the MSC population may explain transdifferentiation.

Aims: Our aim was to identify a population of putative hepatocyte-like precursor cells in human adipose tissue.

Methods: We analysed the ‘basal’ hepatic potential of undifferentiated, naïve human adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hADMSC). hADMSC were isolated from human adipose tissue and characterized for cell surface markers and for liver-specific gene expression.

Results: The isolated undifferentiated naïve hADMSCs expressed MSC surface markers. They also expressed α-fetoprotein, CK18, CK19 and HNF4, which are known as early liver expressing genes. Interestingly, the undifferentiated naïve hADMSC were also positive for albumin, G-6-P and α-1-antitrypsin (AAT), which are all known to be predominantly expressed in adult liver cells. These cells acquired a hepatocyte-specific phenotype and function upon treatment with a differentiation medium, resulting in the upregulation of albumin, G-6-P and AAT. Moreover, urea production, glycogen storage ability and cellular uptake of indocyanine green, which were absent in the basal state, were evident in the treated cells.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest the presence of cells with hepatocyte-like properties that are isolated from human adipose tissue and that can readily acquire hepatocyte-like functions. Adipose tissue could thus be an exciting alternative means for repopulating the liver after various injuries, and might serve as a source for the transplantation of liver cells.