Scientists devise new method to identify cells responsible for regeneration of liver tissues

In living beings, the cells that are responsible for maintaining and replenishing the liver has remained a mystery. Following a research initiative undertaken at Children’s Medical Center Research Institute, UT Southwestern have identified the cells in liver that are responsible for maintaining and replenishing the liver, and at the same time have also pinpointed the place where these cells reside in the liver.

The findings are published in the journal Science. The findings of the research could help researchers answer important questions pertaining to liver damage, liver maintenance, and liver cancer.

Anatomically, the liver performs several critical functions. This includes chemical detoxification, bile excretion, blood protein production, and regulation of energy metabolism. On the other hand, physiologically, the liver comprises tissue units called lobules, which, if cross-sectioned resemble honeycombs. Meanwhile, individual lobules are arranged in concentric zones wherein hepatocytes – the primary cell type- carry out varied functions.

In fact, over the past decade, there has been debate if all hepatocytes across the lobule contribute to new cell generation or if it only a certain set of stem cells or hepatocytes that do so.

Importantly, efforts undertaken earlier to identify the cells that are responsible for liver regeneration were hampered by a lack of markers that could differentiate and compare the function of various types of hepatocytes.

This issue addressed at the Zhu lab addressed by comparison of genes that point out hepatocytes throughout the liver. Employing this approach, scientists identified genes as markers to distinguish the functions and identities of different subsets of hepatocyte. To attain this, scientists created 11 new mouse strains wherein each carries a marker for a specific set of hepatocytes.