• Open Access

In Vitro Differentiation of Embryonic and Adult Stem Cells into Hepatocytes: State of the Art §


  • Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is found at the end of this article.

  • Author contributions: S.S.: conception and design, manuscript writing, collection and assembly of data, data analysis and interpretation; J.D.K.: manuscript writing, collection and assembly of data; V.R.: financial support, critical revision of manuscript; T.V.: critical revision of manuscript, final approval of manuscript.

  • §

    First published online in STEM CELLSExpress December 4, 2008; available online without subscription through the open access option.


Stem cells are a unique source of self-renewing cells within the human body. Before the end of the last millennium, adult stem cells, in contrast to their embryonic counterparts, were considered to be lineage-restricted cells or incapable of crossing lineage boundaries. However, the unique breakthrough of muscle and liver regeneration by adult bone marrow stem cells at the end of the 1990s ended this long-standing paradigm. Since then, the number of articles reporting the existence of multipotent stem cells in skin, neuronal tissue, adipose tissue, and bone marrow has escalated, giving rise, both in vivo and in vitro, to cell types other than their tissue of origin. The phenomenon of fate reprogrammation and phenotypic diversification remains, though, an enigmatic and rare process. Understanding how to control both proliferation and differentiation of stem cells and their progeny is a challenge in many fields, going from preclinical drug discovery and development to clinical therapy. In this review, we focus on current strategies to differentiate embryonic, mesenchymal(-like), and liver stem/progenitor cells into hepatocytes in vitro. Special attention is paid to intracellular and extracellular signaling, genetic modification, and cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions. In addition, some recommendations are proposed to standardize, optimize, and enrich the in vitro production of hepatocyte-like cells out of stem/progenitor cells. STEM CELLS 2009;27:577–605