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In Vitro Expansion of Human Hepatocytes Is Restricted by Telomere-Dependent Replicative Aging

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Currently, different techniques to expand human hepatocytes in vitro are being investigated to generate enough cells for liver-directed cell therapies. However, based on observations in fibroblasts and other cell types, telomere attrition limits the proliferative capacity of normal somatic cells. Therefore, we explored whether telomere-dependent replicative aging restricts the in vitro proliferation of human hepatocytes. Subpopulations of cells isolated from a neonatal liver and characterized as hepatocyte derived by RT-PCR and flow cytometry started to proliferate 5–7 days after plating and were termed proliferating human hepatocytes (PHH). Following retroviral-mediated transduction of the catalytic telomerase subunit, telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT), telomerase activity increased from almost undetectable levels to levels as high as in HepG2 and other telomerase-positive cell lines. As expected, untransduced PHH progressively lost telomeric repeats and arrested after 30–35 cell divisions with telomeres of less than 5 kilo bases. In comparison, telomerase-reconstituted PHH maintained elongated telomeres and continued to proliferate as shown by colorimetric assays and cell counts. In this study, telomere stabilization extended the proliferative capacity of in vitro proliferating human neonatal hepatocytes. Therefore, telomere attrition needs to be addressed when developing techniques to expand human hepatocytes.

Keywords: Hepatocyte; Immortality; Proliferation; Senescence; Telomerase

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: *Transplant Research Institute, University of California, Davis Medical Center, Sacramento, CA 95817 2: †Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA 15261

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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  • Cell Transplantation publishes original, peer-reviewed research and review articles on the subject of cell transplantation and its application to human diseases. To ensure high-quality contributions from all areas of transplantation, separate section editors and editorial boards have been established. Articles deal with a wide range of topics including physiological, medical, preclinical, tissue engineering, and device-oriented aspects of transplantation of nervous system, endocrine, growth factor-secreting, bone marrow, epithelial, endothelial, and genetically engineered cells, among others. Basic clinical studies and immunological research papers are also featured. To provide complete coverage of this revolutionary field, Cell Transplantation will report on relevant technological advances, and ethical and regulatory considerations of cell transplants. Cell Transplantation is now an Open Access journal starting with volume 18 in 2009, and therefore there will be an inexpensive publication charge, which is dependent on the number of pages, in addition to the charge for color figures. This will allow work to be disseminated to a wider audience and also entitle the corresponding author to a free PDF, as well as prepublication of an unedited version of the manuscript.
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