Although the liver has been known for its enormous regenerative capacity, little is known about the mechanisms responsible for such regeneration. To provide evidence for the existence of liver stem cell, using FACS and single cell-based assays, cells with multi-lineage differentiation potential and self-renewal capability have been prospectively identified. These cells could be clonally propagated in culture where they continuously produced hepatocytes and cholangiocytes as descendants while maintaining primitive stem cells. When the cells clonally expanded in vitro were transplanted into mouse, they morphologically and functionally differentiated into hepatocytes and cholangiocytes. Furthermore, these cells differentiated into pancreatic acinar cells or intestinal epithelial cells upon transplantation into pancreas or duodenal wall. Manipulation of self-renewing liver stem cells may provide new insight into therapies for diseases of the digestive system.
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