1. Department of Surgery, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, and Collaborative Innovation Center for Diagnosis and Treatment of Infectious Diseases, China;
2. School of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China;
3. Department of Pathology, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China; State Key Laboratory for Liver Research, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China;
4. Institute of Digestive Disease and The Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, State Key Laboratory of Digestive Disease, Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China;
5. Shenzhen Institute of Research and Innovation, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China.
Background and Aims: Expanded donor criteria poses increased risk for late phase complications such as fibrosis that lead to graft dysfunction in liver transplantation. There remains a need to elucidate the precise mechanisms of post-transplant liver damage in order to improve the long-term outcomes of marginal liver grafts. In this study, we aimed to examine the role of oval cells in fibrogenic development of marginal liver grafts and explore the underlying mechanisms.
Methods: Using an orthotopic rat liver transplantation model and human post-transplant liver biopsy tissues, the dynamics of oval cells in marginal liver grafts was evaluated by the platform integrating immuno-labeling techniques and ultrastructure examination. Underlying mechanisms were further explored in oval cells and an Aldose reductase (AR) knockout mouse model simulating marginal graft injury.
Results: We demonstrated that activation of aldose reductase initiated oval cell proliferation in small-for-size fatty grafts during ductular reaction at the early phase after transplantation. These proliferative oval cells subsequently showed prevailing biliary differentiation and exhibited features of mesenchymal transition including dynamically co-expressing epithelial and mesenchymal markers, developing microstructures for extra-cellular matrix degradation (podosomes) or cell migration (filopodia and blebs), and acquiring the capacity in collagen production. Mechanistic studies further indicated that transition of oval cell-derived biliary cells toward mesenchymal phenotype ensued fibrogenesis in marginal grafts under the regulation of notch signaling pathway.
Conclusions: Oval cell activation and their subsequent lineage commitment contribute to post-transplant fibrogenesis of small-for-size fatty liver grafts. Interventions targeting oval cell dynamics may serve as potential strategies to refine current clinical management.
Keywords: hepatic bipotent cells, small-for-size fatty graft injury, aldose reductase, notch signaling.