Oct4 and Hnf4α-induced hepatic stem cells ameliorate chronic liver injury in liver fibrosis model
Direct conversion from fibroblasts to generate hepatocyte like-cells (iHeps) bypassing the pluripotent state has been described in previous reports as an attractive method acquiring hepatocytes for cell-based therapy. The limited proliferation of iHeps, however, has hampered it uses in cell-based therapy. Since hepatic stem cells (HepSCs) possess self-renewal and bipotency with the capacity to differentiate into both hepatocytes and cholangiocytes, they have therapeutic potential for treating liver disease. Here, we investigated the therapeutic effects of induced HepSCs (iHepSCs) on a carbon tetrachloride (CCl4)-induced liver fibrosis model. We demonstrate that Oct4 and Hnf4a are sufficient to convert fibroblasts into expandable iHepSCs. Hepatocyte-like cells derived from iHepSCs (iHepSC-HEPs) exhibit the typical morphology of hepatocytes and hepatic functions, including glycogen storage, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) uptake, Indocyanine green (ICG) detoxification, drug metabolism, urea production, and albumin secretion. iHepSCs-derived cholangiocyte-like cells (iHepSC-CLCs) expressed cholangiocyte-specific markers and formed cysts and tubule-like structures with apical-basal polarity and secretory function in three-dimensional culture condition. Furthermore, iHepSCs showed anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic effects in CCl4-induced liver fibrosis. This study demonstrates that Oct4 and Hnf4α-induced HepSCs show typical hepatic and biliary functionality in vitro. It also presents the therapeutic effect of iHepSCs in liver fibrosis. Therefore, directly converting iHepSCs from somatic cells may facilitate the development of patient-specific cell-based therapy for chronic liver damage.