A humanized mouse model of liver fibrosis following expansion of transplanted hepatic stellate cells
© 2018 United States & Canadian Academy of Pathology. Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) are major contributors to liver fibrosis, as hepatic injuries may cause their transdifferentiation into myofibroblast-like cells capable of producing excessive extracellular matrix proteins. Also, HSCs can modulate engraftment of transplanted hepatocytes and contribute to liver regeneration. Therefore, understanding the biology of human HSCs (hHSCs) is important, but effective methods have not been available to address their fate in vivo. To investigate whether HSCs could engraft and repopulate the liver, we transplanted GFP-transduced immortalized hHSCs into immunodeficient NOD/SCID mice. Biodistribution analysis with radiolabeled hHSCs showed that after intrasplenic injection, the majority of transplanted cells rapidly translocated to the liver. GFP-immunohistochemistry demonstrated that transplanted hHSCs engrafted alongside hepatic sinusoids. Prior permeabilization of the sinusoidal endothelial layer with monocrotaline enhanced engraftment of hHSCs. Transplanted hHSCs remained engrafted without relevant proliferation in the healthy liver. However, after CCl4or bile duct ligation-induced liver damage, transplanted hHSCs expanded and contributed to extracellular matrix production, formation of bridging cell-septae and cirrhosis-like hepatic pseudolobules. CCl4-induced injury recruited hHSCs mainly to zone 3, whereas after bile duct ligation, hHSCs were mainly in zone 1 of the liver lobule. Transplanted hHSCs neither transdifferentiated into other cell types nor formed tumors in these settings. In conclusion, a humanized mouse model was generated by transplanting hHSCs, which proliferated during hepatic injury and inflammation, and contributed to liver fibrosis. The ability to repopulate the liver with transplanted hHSCs will be particularly significant for mechanistic studies of cell-cell interactions and fibrogenesis within the liver.
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School of Medicine