Using flow cytometry and single cell-based assays, we prospectively identified hepatic stem cells with multi-lineage differentiation potential and self-renewing capability. These cells could be clonally propagated in culture where they continuously produced hepatocytes and cholangiocytes as descendants while maintaining primitive stem cells. When cells that expanded in vitro were transplanted into recipient animals, they morphologically and functionally differentiated into hepatocytes and cholangiocytes with reconstitution of hepatocyte and bile duct structures. Furthermore, these cells differentiated into pancreatic ductal and acinar cells or intestinal epithelial cells when transplanted into pancreas or duodenal wall. These data indicate that self-renewing pluripotent stem cells persist in the developing mouse liver and that such cells can be induced to become cells of other organs of endodermal origin under appropriate microenvironment. Manipulation of hepatic stem cells may provide new insight into therapies for diseases of the digestive system.
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