Although absolute organ shortage highlights the needs of alternative organ sources for regenerative medicine, the generation of a three-dimensional (3D) and complex vital organ, such as well-vascularized liver, remains a challenge. To this end, tissue engineering holds great promise; however, this approach is significantly limited by the failure of early vascularization in vivo after implantation. Here, we established a stable 3D in vitro pre-vascularization platform to generate human hepatic tissue after implantation in vivo. Human fetal liver cells (hFLCs) were mixed with human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) and mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) and were implanted into a collagen/fibronectin matrix composite that was used as a 3-D carrier. After a couple of days, the fluorescent HUVECs developed premature vascular networks in vitro, which were stabilized by hMSCs. The establishment of functional vessels inside the pre-vascularized constructs was proven using dextran infusion studies after implantation under a transparency cranial window. Furthermore, dynamic morphological changes during embryonic liver cell maturation were intravitaly quantified with high-resolution confocal microscope analysis. The engineered human hepatic tissue demonstrated multiple liver-specific features, both structural and functional. Our new techniques discussed here can be implemented in future clinical uses and industrial uses, such as drug testing.
Mesenchymal stem cells support hepatocyte function in engineered liver grafts
Recent studies suggest that organ decellularization is a promising approach to facilitate the clinical application of regenerative therapy by providing a platform for organ engineering. This unique strategy uses native matrices to act as a reservoir for the functional cells which may show therapeutic potential when implanted into the body. Appropriate cell sources for artificial livers have been debated for some time. The desired cell type in artificial livers is primary hepatocytes, but in addition, other supportive cells may facilitate this stem cell technology. In this context, the use of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) is an option meeting the criteria for therapeutic organ engineering. Ideally, supportive cells are required to (1) reduce the hepatic cell mass needed in an engineered liver by enhancing hepatocyte function, (2) modulate hepatic regeneration in a paracrine fashion or by direct contact, and (3) enhance the preservability of parenchymal cells during storage. Here, we describe enhanced hepatic function achieved using a strategy of sequential infusion of cells and illustrate the advantages of co-cultivating bone marrow-derived MSCs with primary hepatocytes in the engineered whole-liver scaffold. These co-recellularized liver scaffolds colonized by MSCs and hepatocytes were transplanted into live animals. After blood flow was established, we show that expression of adhesion molecules and proangiogenic factors was upregulated in the graft.
Re-evaluation of liver stem/progenitor cells
Naoki Tanimizu and Toshihiro Mitaka
Liver stem/progenitor cells (LPCs) are defined as cells that supply two types of liver epithelial cells, hepatocytes and cholangiocytes, during development, cellular turnover, and regeneration. Hepatoblasts, which are fetal LPCs derived from endoderm stem cells, robustly proliferate and differentiate into hepatocytes and cholangiocytes during fetal life. Between mid-gestation and the neonatal period, some cholangiocytes function as LPCs. Although LPCs in adult livers can be enriched in cells positive for cholangiocyte markers, their tissue localization and functions in cellular turnover remain obscure. On the other hand, it is well known that liver regeneration under conditions suppressing hepatocyte proliferation is supported by LPCs, though their origin has not been clearly identified. Recently many groups took advantage of new techniques including prospective isolation of LPCs by fluorescence-activated cell sorting and genetic lineage tracing to facilitate our understanding of epithelial supply in normal and injured livers. Those works suggest that, in normal livers, the turnover of hepatocytes mostly depends on duplication of hepatocytes. It is also demonstrated that liver epithelial cells as well as LPCs have great plasticity and flexible differentiation capability to respond to various types of injuries by protecting or repairing liver tissues.