The location and timing of cellular differentiation must be stringently controlled for proper organ formation. Normally, hepatocytes differentiate from hepatic progenitor cells to form the liver during development. However, previous studies have shown that the hepatic program can also be activated in non-hepatic lineage cells after exposure to particular stimuli or fusion with hepatocytes. These unexpected findings suggest that factors critical to hepatocyte differentiation exist and become activated to induce hepatocyte-specific properties in different cell types. Here, by screening the effects of twelve candidate factors, we identify three specific combinations of two transcription factors, comprising Hnf ± plus Foxa1, Foxa2 or Foxa3, that can convert mouse embryonic and adult fibroblasts into cells that closely resemble hepatocytes in vitro. The induced hepatocyte-like (iHep) cells have multiple hepatocyte-specific features and reconstitute damaged hepatic tissues after transplantation. The generation of iHep cells may provide insights into the molecular nature of hepatocyte differentiation and potential therapies for liver diseases.
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