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Blood. 2003 Apr 15;101(8):2973-82. Epub 2002 Dec 27.

Fetal liver stroma consists of cells in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition.

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INSERM U506, Hôpital Paul Brousse, Villejuif, France.


Liver becomes the predominant site of hematopoiesis by 11.5 dpc (days after coitus) in the mouse and 15 gestational weeks in humans and stays so until the end of gestation. The reason the liver is the major hematopoietic site during fetal life is not clear. In this work, we tried to define which of the fetal liver microenvironmental cell populations would be associated with the development of hematopoiesis and found that a population of cells with mixed endodermal and mesodermal features corresponded to hematopoietic-supportive fetal liver stroma. Stromal cells generated from primary cultures or stromal lines from mouse or human fetal liver in the hematopoietic florid phase expressed both mesenchymal markers (vimentin, osteopontin, collagen I, alpha smooth muscle actin, thrombospondin-1, EDa fibronectin, calponin, Stro-1 antigens, myocyte-enhancer factor 2C) and epithelial (alpha-fetoprotein, cytokeratins 8 and 18, albumin, E-cadherin, hepatocyte nuclear factor 3 alpha) markers. Such a cell population fits with the description of cells in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), often observed during development, including that of the liver. The hematopoietic supportive capacity of EMT cells was lost after hepatocytic maturation, induced by oncostatin M in the cell line AFT024. EMT cells were observed in the fetal liver microenvironment during the hematopoietic phase but not in nonhematopoietic liver by the end of gestation and in the adult. EMT cells represent a novel stromal cell type that may be generated from hepatic endodermal or mesenchymal stem cells or even from circulating hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) seeding the liver rudiment.

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