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J Cell Physiol. 2010 Nov;225(2):545-54. doi: 10.1002/jcp.22237.

In vitro differentiation of unrestricted somatic stem cells into functional hepatic-like cells displaying a hepatocyte-like glucose metabolism.

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Institute for Transplantation Diagnostics and Cell Therapeutics, Heinrich Heine University Medical Center, Düsseldorf, Germany.


The hepatic-like phenotype resulting from in vitro differentiation of unrestricted somatic stem cells (USSC) derived from human umbilical cord blood (CB) was analyzed with regard to functional and metabolic aspects. USSC can be differentiated into cells of all three germ layers in vitro and in vivo and, although they share many features with mesenchymal stroma cells (MSC), can be distinguished from these by their expression of DLK1 as well as a restricted adipogenic differentiation potential. For the differentiation procedure described herein, a novel three-stage differentiation protocol resembling embryonic developmental processes of hepatic endoderm was applied. Hepatic pre-induction was performed by activinA and FGF4 resulting in enhanced SOX17 and FOXA2 expression. Further differentiation was achieved sequentially by retinoic acid, FGF4, HGF, EGF, and OSM resulting in a hepatic endodermal identity, characterized by the expression of AFP and HNF1alpha. Thereafter, expression of G6PC, ARG1, FBP1, and HNF4alpha was observed, thus indicating progressive differentiation. Functional studies concerning albumin secretion, urea formation, and cytochrome-p450-3A4 (CYP3A4) enzyme activity confirmed the hepatic-like phenotype. In order to characterize the differentiated cells at a metabolic level, USSC were incubated with [1-(13)C]glucose. By tracing the fate of the molecule's label via isotopomer analysis using (13)C NMR spectroscopy, formation of both glycogen and some gluconeogenetic activity could be observed providing evidence of a hepatocyte-like glucose metabolism in differentiated USSC. In conclusion, the results of the present study indicate that USSC represent a stem cell source with a substantial hepatic differentiation capacity which hold the potential for clinical applications.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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