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Am J Pathol. 1992 Sep;141(3):623-32.

Distribution of albumin and alpha-fetoprotein mRNAs in normal, hyperplastic, and preneoplastic rat liver.

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Liver Research Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York.


The nature of bile duct-like (oval) cells proliferating during chemical hepatocarcinogenesis has been controversial. To investigate this issue further, the authors compared the hepatic distribution of albumin (ALB) and alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) mRNAs in rats in which oval cell proliferation was induced by feeding a choline-devoid diet containing 0.1% ethionine (CDE, a hepatocarcinogenic diet) with that in normal rats and in rats in which biliary epithelial cell hyperplasia was induced by either bile duct ligation or feeding alpha-naphthylisothiocyanate (ANIT). Northern blot analysis in parenchymal and nonparenchymal liver cells isolated from these animals demonstrated that ALB mRNA was present in the hepatocytes of both control and experimental animals, whereas this transcript was detected in nonparenchymal epithelial cells only in CDE-fed rats. Alpha-fetoprotein mRNA was not seen in either parenchymal or nonparenchymal cells isolated from normal or hyperplastic livers induced by bile duct ligation or ANIT feeding. In CDE-fed rats, however, both parenchymal and nonparenchymal cell populations displayed AFP message. In situ hybridization directly demonstrated nonparenchymal cell expression of both ALB and AFP transcripts in CDE-fed rats. Most surprisingly, ALB and AFP mRNAs were also detected by in situ hybridization in occasional nonparenchymal cells located in portal tracts near the limiting plate in normal liver, as well as under conditions associated with bile duct hyperplasia. Immunohistochemical studies of intermediate filament proteins, cytokeratin 19 (a marker of glandular epithelia), vimentin (a marker of mesenchymal lineage), and desmin (a marker of muscle cell differentiation) demonstrated that oval cells, as well as normal and hyperplastic bile duct cells, were positive for cytokeratin 19 and negative for both vimentin and desmin. Cytokeratin-positive oval cells formed duct profiles and were connected to preexisting ductules and ducts. These results are construed to suggest that oval cells proliferating during CDE hepatocarcinogenesis are derived from epithelial cells within the biliary tree. The presence of cells with similar morphologic appearance, periportal location, and AFP and ALB expression in normal liver suggests that these cells may be the progenitors of oval cells induced by some carcinogenic regimens.

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