Thymus cell antigen-1 (Thy-1)-expressing cells proliferate in the liver during oval cell (OC)-mediated liver regeneration. We characterized these cells in normal liver, in carbon tetrachloride-injured liver, and in several models of OC activation. The gene expression analyses were performed using reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), quantitative RT-PCR (Q-RT-PCR) of cells isolated by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS), and by immunofluorescent microscopy of tissue sections and isolated cells. In normal liver, Thy-1+ cells are a heterogeneous population: those located in the periportal region do not coexpress desmin or alpha smooth muscle actin (α-SMA). The majority of Thy-1+ cells located at the lobular interface and in the parenchyma coexpress desmin but not α-SMA, i.e., they are not resident myofibroblasts. Although Thy-1+ cells proliferate moderately after carbon tetrachloride injury, in all models of OC-mediated liver regeneration they proliferate quickly and expand significantly and disappear from the liver when the OC response subsides. Activated Thy-1+ cells do not express OC genes but they express genes known to be expressed in mesenchymal stem cells (CD105, CD73, CD29), genes considered specific for activated stellate cells (desmin, collagen I-a2, Mmp2, Mmp14) and myofibroblasts (α-SMA, fibulin-2), as well as growth factors and cytokines (Hgf, Tweak, IL-1b, IL-6, IL-15) that can affect OC growth. Activated in vitro stellate cells do not express Thy-1. Subcloning of Thy-1+ cells from OC-activated livers yield Thy-1+ fibroblastic cells and a population of E-cadherin+ mesenchymal cells that gradually discontinue expression of Thy-1 and begin to express cytokeratins. However, upon transplantation these cells do not differentiate into hepatocytes or cholangiocytes. Activated Thy-1+ cells produce predominantly latent transforming growth factor beta. Conclusion: Thy-1+ cells in the OC niche are activated mesenchymal-epithelial cells that are distinct from resident stellate cells, myofibroblasts, and oval cells.
ASJC Scopus subject areas