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Tissue Eng. 2001 Jun;7(3):345-57.

Liver tissue engineering: a role for co-culture systems in modifying hepatocyte function and viability.

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  • 1School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, The University of Nottingham, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK.


A major limitation in the construction of a functional engineered liver is the short-term survival and rapid de-differentiation of hepatocytes in culture. Heterotypic cell-cell interactions may have a role to play in modulating long-term hepatocyte behavior in engineered tissues. We describe the potential of 3T3 fibroblast cells in a co-culture system to modulate function and viability of primary isolated rat hepatocytes. Over an 18-day period after isolation, hepatocytes in pure culture rapidly declined in viability, displayed sparse bile canaliculi, and lost two function markers, the secretion of albumin and ethoxyresorufin O-dealkylase (EROD) activity. In comparison, the hepatocytes within the co-cultures maintained viability, possessed well-formed canalicular systems, and displayed both functional markers. Fixed 3T3 cells or 3T3 cell conditioned medium did not substitute for the viable 3T3 cell co-culture system in preserving hepatocyte viability and functionality.

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