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Hepatology. 2012 Apr;55(4):1215-26. doi: 10.1002/hep.24796.

Hepatocyte growth factor/c-met signaling is required for stem-cell-mediated liver regeneration in mice.

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Laboratory of Experimental Carcinogenesis, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-4262, USA.


Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF)/c-Met supports a pleiotrophic signal transduction pathway that controls stem cell homeostasis. Here, we directly addressed the role of c-Met in stem-cell-mediated liver regeneration by utilizing mice harboring c-met floxed alleles and Alb-Cre or Mx1-Cre transgenes. To activate oval cells, the hepatic stem cell (HSC) progeny, we used a model of liver injury induced by diet containing the porphyrinogenic agent, 3,5-diethocarbonyl-1,4-dihydrocollidine (DDC). Deletion of c-met in oval cells was confirmed in both models by polymerase chain reaction analysis of fluorescence-activated cell-sorted epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCam)-positive cells. Loss of c-Met receptor decreased the sphere-forming capacity of oval cells in vitro as well as reduced oval cell pool, impaired migration, and decreased hepatocytic differentiation in vivo, as demonstrated by double immunofluorescence using oval- (A6 and EpCam) and hepatocyte-specific (i.e. hepatocyte nuclear factor 4-alpha) antibodies. Furthermore, lack of c-Met had a profound effect on tissue remodeling and overall composition of HSC niche, which was associated with greatly reduced matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)9 activity and decreased expression of stromal-cell-derived factor 1. Using a combination of double immunofluorescence of cell-type-specific markers with MMP9 and gelatin zymography on the isolated cell populations, we identified macrophages as a major source of MMP9 in DDC-treated livers. The Mx1-Cre-driven c-met deletion caused the greatest phenotypic impact on HSCs response, as compared to the selective inactivation in the epithelial cell lineages achieved in c-Met(fl/fl); Alb-Cre(+/-) mice. However, in both models, genetic loss of c-met triggered a similar cascade of events, leading to the failure of HSC mobilization and death of the mice.


These results establish a direct contribution of c-Met in the regulation of HSC response and support a unique role for HGF/c-Met as an essential growth-factor-signaling pathway for regeneration of diseased liver.

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