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Nature. 2013 Feb 14;494(7436):247-50. doi: 10.1038/nature11826. Epub 2013 Jan 27.

In vitro expansion of single Lgr5+ liver stem cells induced by Wnt-driven regeneration.

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  • 1Hubrecht Institute for Developmental Biology and Stem Cell Research, University Medical Centre Utrecht, Netherlands.


The Wnt target gene Lgr5 (leucine-rich-repeat-containing G-protein-coupled receptor 5) marks actively dividing stem cells in Wnt-driven, self-renewing tissues such as small intestine and colon, stomach and hair follicles. A three-dimensional culture system allows long-term clonal expansion of single Lgr5(+) stem cells into transplantable organoids (budding cysts) that retain many characteristics of the original epithelial architecture. A crucial component of the culture medium is the Wnt agonist RSPO1, the recently discovered ligand of LGR5. Here we show that Lgr5-lacZ is not expressed in healthy adult liver, however, small Lgr5-LacZ(+) cells appear near bile ducts upon damage, coinciding with robust activation of Wnt signalling. As shown by mouse lineage tracing using a new Lgr5-IRES-creERT2 knock-in allele, damage-induced Lgr5(+) cells generate hepatocytes and bile ducts in vivo. Single Lgr5(+) cells from damaged mouse liver can be clonally expanded as organoids in Rspo1-based culture medium over several months. Such clonal organoids can be induced to differentiate in vitro and to generate functional hepatocytes upon transplantation into Fah(-/-) mice. These findings indicate that previous observations concerning Lgr5(+) stem cells in actively self-renewing tissues can also be extended to damage-induced stem cells in a tissue with a low rate of spontaneous proliferation.

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