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Transplantation of adult human hepatic stem/progenitor cells (hHSPCs) has been considered as an alternative therapy, replacing donor liver transplantation to treat liver cirrhosis. This study assessed the antifibrotic effects of hHSPCs in mice with fibrosis induced by carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) and examined the actions of hHSPCs on the fibrogenic activity of human hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) in a coculture system. Isolated hHSPCs expressed stem/progenitor cell phenotypic markers. Mice were given CCl4 (twice weekly for 7 weeks) and hHSPC transplantation weekly. CCl4 induced advanced fibrosis (bridging fibrosis and cirrhosis) in mice, which was prevented by hHSPC transplantation. The liver of hHSPC-transplanted mice showed only occasional short septa and focal parenchymal fibrosis, and a 50% reduction in hepatic collagen, assessed by Sirius red stain histomorphometry. Moreover, the proteins for α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) and collagen I were decreased. While α-SMA, collagen α1(I), and tissue inhibitor of metalloproproteinase-1 mRNAs were decreased, matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-1 mRNA was increased, consistent with decreased fibrogenesis. MMP-2 and transforming growth factor-β were not affected. Alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase were lower, suggesting improvement of liver function/damage. In coculture, hHSPCs elicited changes of α-SMA and fibrogenic molecules in HSCs similar to those observed in vivo, providing evidence for a functional link between hHSPCs and HSCs. A decreased HSC proliferation was noted. Thus, transplantation of hHSPCs prevents histogenesis of advanced liver fibrosis caused by CCl4. hHSPCs mediate downregulation of HSC activation coincident with modulation of fibrogenic molecule expression, leading to suppression of fibrogenesis both in vivo and in vitro.


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