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Lab Invest. 1994 Apr;70(4):511-6.

Expression of stem cell factor and its receptor, c-kit, during liver regeneration from putative stem cells in adult rat.

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  • 1Laboratory of Experimental Carcinogenesis, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.



Stem cell factor (SCF) and its receptor, c-kit, are known to play important roles in hematopoiesis, melanogenesis, and gametogenesis. The biologic effects of the SCF/c-kit system are believed to involve survival, proliferation, and migration of early stem cell progeny. Although SCF and c-kit receptor are widely expressed during normal embryonic development, their expression in the adult is limited.


The expression of SCF and c-kit genes was examined during liver regeneration via the oval cell compartment utilizing partial hepatectomy (PH) combined with the administration of a noncarcinogenic dose of 2-acetylaminofluorene (AAF) for 8 days (AAF/PH model).


Both the ligand and the receptor genes were expressed during the early stages of oval cell proliferation after partial hepatectomy in the AAF/PH model, while neither simple partial hepatectomy nor AAF administration alone induced a noticeable expression of the SCF/c-kit system. The level of SCF mRNA increased within 12 hours after partial hepatectomy and reached a peak around day 4. Thus, the expression of SCF preceded the major expansion of the oval cell compartment. The level of c-kit transcripts gradually increased from the 12-hour time point and stayed elevated until day 11, when a large proportion of the oval cells differentiated into small basophilic hepatocytes. Separation of liver cells at day 3 in the AAF/PH model into parenchymal and nonparenchymal fractions demonstrated that the expression of both SCF and c-kit receptor genes was restricted to the nonparenchymal cells. Furthermore, in situ hybridization revealed that the c-kit transcripts were restricted to oval cells, whereas the SCF transcripts were expressed in both oval cells and Ito cells.


The transcripts for the c-kit receptor are expressed in the early progeny of the hepatic stem cells. The SCF/c-kit system may, possibly in combination with other growth factor/receptor systems, be involved in the early activation of the hepatic stem cells as well as in the expansion and differentiation of oval cells.

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