Stem cells and development

MEK-ERK Activity Regulates the Proliferative Activity of Fetal Hepatoblasts Through Accumulation of p16/19(cdkn2a).

PMID 26181762


Hepatoblasts are somatic progenitor cells in the fetal liver, which retain a high proliferative capacity and differentiate into both hepatocytes and cholangiocytes in vivo. Although efficient expansion of hepatoblasts in vitro has been difficult without genetic modification, we have previously demonstrated that the interaction with mesenchymal cells is important for expansion of hepatoblasts in vitro. In this study, we show cell signaling pathways regulating the long-term proliferative ability of hepatoblasts. Individual primary hepatoblasts derived from mouse fetal livers formed large colonies when cocultured with mesenchymal feeder cells; however, secondary colony formation was unsuccessful, indicating that in vitro culture could induce short-term, but not long-term, proliferation. When the MEK inhibitor, PD0325901, was added to these cultures, hepatoblasts formed large colonies containing many Ki-67-positive cells. Expression of p16/19(cdkn2a), a cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor, was induced after 3-6 days culture of hepatoblasts, whereas PD0325901 significantly suppressed this expression. Consistent with these observations, fetal hepatoblasts derived from p16/19(cdkn2a) knockout mice showed long-term proliferation without PD0325901, suggesting that MEK activity induced cell cycle arrest through accumulation of p16/19(cdkn2a). In transplantation assays, we could demonstrate that in vitro expanded hepatoblasts could proliferate and differentiate into hepatocytic and cholangiocytic cells in injured livers. It should also be noted that ERK in primary hepatoblasts was not highly activated during fetal liver development. Collectively, all these findings suggest that the MEK/ERK-independent pathway in the fetal liver is involved in hepatoblast proliferation to avoid accumulation of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor.

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