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Exp Cell Res. 1993 Feb;204(2):198-209.

Isolation, biochemical characterization, long-term culture, and phenotype modulation of oval cells from carcinogen-fed rats.

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Institute of Toxicology, University of Mainz, Germany.


Oval cells are liver epithelial cells that proliferate during hepatocarcinogenesis and chemically induced severe liver injury. It has been suggested that these cells represent hepatic stem cells which might play an important role in the histogenesis of cholangiocellular as well as hepatocellular carcinomas. In order to test this hypothesis highly purified oval cell preparations and propagable oval cell lines are needed. In the present study the isolation, biochemical characterization, and long-term culture of oval cells from rats fed a choline-deficient/DL-ethionine-supplemented diet for 6, 14, or 22 weeks are described. The freshly isolated oval cells were gamma-glutamyltranspeptidase-positive, cytokeratin 7-, 8-, 18-, and 19-positive, albumin-positive, peroxidase-negative, and alpha-fetoprotein-negative and expressed lactate dehydrogenase isoenzymes 1-5. In addition, low but clearly measurable glucose-6-phosphatase and high gamma-glutamyltranspeptidase and alkaline phosphatase activities (when compared to activities in untreated liver parenchymal cells) were measured in oval cells. Three oval cell lines, OC/CDE 6, OC/CDE 14, and OC/CDE 22, were established. They contained small and large epithelial cells replicating to form uniform monolayers with a cobblestone appearance; furthermore, a very low number of mononucleated giant cells were also present in the three cell lines. OC/CDE 6, OC/CDE 14, and OC/CDE 22 cells were gamma-glutamyltranspeptidase-negative, were transiently albumin-positive, maintained the glucose-6-phosphatase activity levels measured in freshly isolated oval cells, and expressed lactate dehydrogenase isoenzymes 2-5. After exposure of the cultured oval cells to dimethyl sulfoxide or sodium butyrate, 35-40% of the cells reexpressed albumin, and glucose-6-phosphatase activity was enhanced; in addition, sodium butyrate strongly increased gamma-glutamyltranspeptidase and alkaline phosphatase activities. In conclusion, oval cells express phenotypic markers of liver parenchymal as well as bile duct epithelial cells and possess a certain intrinsic plasticity. In order to test if the oval cells indeed represent an intermediate step in the differentiation of certain cells within the bile duct and ductular epithelial cell compartment to parenchymal cells, the three cell lines described herein will be transformed in vitro and their potential to give rise to cholangiocellular and/or hepatocellular carcinomas will be verified in vivo.

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