Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.)

Adaptive remodeling of the biliary architecture underlies liver homeostasis.

PMID 25572923


Serving as the center for metabolism and detoxification, the liver is inherently susceptible to a wide variety of damage imposed by toxins or chemicals. Induction of cell populations with biliary epithelial phenotypes, which include progenitor-like cells and are referred to as liver progenitor cells, is often observed in histopathological examination of various liver diseases in both human patients and animal models and has been implicated in regeneration. However, the tissue dynamics underlying this phenomenon remains largely unclear. We have developed a simple imaging technique to reveal the global and fine-scale architecture of the biliary tract spreading in the mouse liver. Using this novel method, we show that the emergence and expansion of liver progenitor cells actually reflect structural transformation of the intrahepatic biliary tree in mouse liver injury models. The biliary branches expanded their area gradually and contiguously along with the course of chronic injury. Relevant regulatory signals known to be involved in liver progenitor cell regulation, including fibroblast growth factor 7 and tumor necrosis factor-like weak inducer of apoptosis, can modulate the dynamics of the biliary epithelium in different ways. Importantly, the structural transformations of the biliary tree were diverse and corresponded well with the parenchymal injury patterns. That is, when chronic hepatocyte damage was induced in the pericentral area, the biliary branches exhibited an extended structure from the periportal area with apparent tropism toward the distant injured area. The hepatobiliary system possesses a unique and unprecedented structural flexibility and can remodel dynamically and adaptively in response to various injury conditions; this type of tissue plasticity should constitute an essential component to maintain liver homeostasis.