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Enzyme. 1992;46(1-3):155-68.

Liver cell heterogeneity: functions of non-parenchymal cells.

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Laboratory of Cell Biology and Histology, Free University Brussels, Belgium.


The normal hepatic sinusoid is formed or lined by four different cell types, each with its specific phenotypic characteristics, functions and topography. Endothelial cells constitute the closed lining or wall of the capillary. They contain small fenestrations to allow the free diffusion of substances, but not of particles like chylomicrons, between the blood and the hepatocyte surface. This filtering effect regulates the fat uptake by the liver. Sinusoidal endothelial cells also have a pronounced endocytotic capacity which makes them an important part of the reticuloendothelial system. They are also active in the secretion of bioactive factors and extracellular matrix components of the liver. Recently, a zonal heterogeneity of the endothelial lining has been reported with regard to its filtering capacity (fenestration) and binding capacity for lectins and cells. Kupffer cells are intrasinusoidally located tissue macrophages with a pronounced endocytotic capacity. They are potent mediators of the inflammatory response by the secretion of a variety of bioactive factors and play an important part in the immune defense. A zonal heterogeneity has been established with regard to the endocytotic capacity and cytotoxic function. Pit cells are now known to represent a liver-associated population of large granular lymphocytes. They have the capacity to kill tumor cells and probably also play a role in the antiviral defense of the liver. In addition, pit cells may have a growth-regulatory function of the liver. They are known to be numerically more prominent in the periportal region, as is also the case for Kupffer cells. Fat-storing or Ito cells are present in the perisinusoidal space of Disse and are thought to represent the main hepatic source of extracellular matrix components. They are also the main site of vitamin-A storage. Fat-storing cells are more numerous in the periportal region than in the central region of the hepatic acinus. The periportal cells also store higher amounts of vitamin A. Sinusoidal cells may be considered to represent a functional unit at the border line between the hepatocytes or parenchymal cells and the blood. They participate in various liver functions and liver pathologies and our knowledge about this is growing. The heterogeneity of these cell types and possible cooperations between them and the hepatocytes may add to our understanding of liver functions.

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