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Hepatology. 2012 Feb;55(2):540-52. doi: 10.1002/hep.24693.

Successful isolation of liver progenitor cells by aldehyde dehydrogenase activity in naïve mice.

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Liver Cell Biology Laboratory, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Brussels, Belgium.


The role of progenitor cells in liver repair and fibrosis has been extensively described, but their purification remains a challenge, hampering their characterization and use in regenerative medicine. To address this issue, we developed an easy and reproducible liver progenitor cell (LPC) isolation strategy based on aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) activity, a common feature shared by many progenitor cells. We demonstrate that a subset of nonparenchymal mouse liver cells displays high levels of ALDH activity, allowing the isolation of these cells by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. Immunocytochemistry and qPCR analyses on freshly isolated ALDH(+) cells reveal an enrichment in cells expressing liver stem cell markers such as EpCAM, CK19, CD133, and Sox9. In culture, the ALDH(+) population can give rise to functional hepatocyte-like cells as illustrated by albumin and urea secretion and cytochrome P450 activity. ALDH1A1 expression can be detected in canals of Hering and bile duct epithelial cells and is increased on liver injury. Finally, we showed that the isolation and differentiation toward hepatocyte-like cells of LPCs with high ALDH activity is also successfully applicable to human liver samples.


High ALDH activity is a feature of LPCs that can be taken advantage of to isolate these cells from untreated mouse as well as human liver tissues. This novel protocol is practically relevant, because it provides an easy and nontoxic method to isolate liver stem cells from normal tissue for potential therapeutic purposes.

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