Hepatic progenitor/oval cells appear in injured livers when hepatocyte proliferation is impaired. These cells can differentiate into hepatocytes and cholangiocytes and could be useful for cell and gene therapy applications. In this work, we studied progenitor/oval cell surface markers in the liver of rats subjected to 2-acetylaminofluorene treatment followed by partial hepatectomy (2-AAF/PH) by using rat genome 230 2.0 Array chips and subsequent RT-PCR, immunofluorescent (IF), immunohistochemical (IHC) and in situ hybridization (ISH) analyses. We also studied expression of the identified novel cell surface markers in fetal rat liver progenitor cells and FAO-1 hepatoma cells. Novel cell surface markers in adult progenitor cells included tight junction proteins, integrins, cadherins, cell adhesion molecules, receptors, membrane channels and other transmembrane proteins. From the panel of 21 cell surface markers, 9 were overexpressed in fetal progenitor cells, 6 in FAO-1 cells and 6 are unique for the adult progenitors (CD133, claudin-7, cadherin 22, mucin-1, ros-1, Gabrp). The specificity of progenitor/oval cell surface markers was confirmed by ISH and double IF analyses. Moreover, study of progenitor cells purified with Ep-CAM antibodies from D-galactosamine injured rat liver, a noncarcinogenic model of progenitor cell activation, verified that progenitor cells expressed these markers. Conclusion: We identified novel cell surface markers specific for hepatic progenitor/oval cells, which offers powerful tool for their identification, isolation and studies of their physiology and pathophysiology. Our studies also reveal the mesenchymal/epithelial phenotype of these cells and the existence of species diversity in the hepatic progenitor cell identity.
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