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Am J Pathol. 1996 Aug;149(2):389-98.

Chronic iron overload in rats induces oval cells in the liver.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, Australia.


Liver damage induced by a variety of agents including hepatocarcinogens, alcohol, and virus induces proliferation of oval cells. In this study, iron overloading of the liver is used as a means of inducing liver damage over an extended period to ascertain whether it promotes the appearance of oval cells. Rats were fed a 2% carbonyl-iron-supplemented diet for 3 or 6 months. Extensive iron deposits appeared periportally in hepatocytes and some Kupffer cells. Iron deposition was less pronounced pericentrally. Small oval-like cells, morphologically and immunocytochemically similar to CDE-derived oval cells, were identified and quantified. They first emerged periportally and subsequently in small tracts or foci nearer central regions and stained positively for alpha-fetoprotein, pi-class glutathione S-transferase, and the embryonic form of pyruvate kinase. They contained very few iron deposits and were classified as iron free. The major difference between CDE- and iron-overload-derived oval cells was that the latter were negative for transferrin. This study shows that cellular changes occurring in iron-overloaded rat liver are similar to those observed in rats placed on a hepatocarcinogenic diet and in rats chronically exposed to alcohol.

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