Liver transplantation is the mainstay of treatment for patients with end-stage liver disease. However, the paucity in genetically matched donors and technical hurdles associated with expanding hepatocytes has limited the number patients that could have otherwise been treated effectively with liver or hepatocyte transplantation. Therefore, identification of the molecular and cellular pathways that allow expansion and engraftment of hepatocytes and augment liver regeneration will have significant therapeutic impact. We have found that after 70% partial hepatectomy (PH), activation of liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSECs) by production of paracrine factors, defined as angiocrine factors, induce liver regeneration. We have defined phenotypic and operational definition of LSECs and have shown that LSECs compose of a specialized vascular network that are in direct cellular contact with hepatocytes, supporting liver regeneration (Ding et al, Nature 2010). After PH, activation of LSECs initiates and sustains the regeneration of remaining lobes of the liver. The activation of the VEGF-A tyrosine kinase receptor (VEGFR2) and Id1 pathway in LSECs upregulated the angiocrine expression of Wnt2 and hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) stimulating hepatic proliferation. However, the mechanism by which PH induces LSECs to produce hepatocyte-active angiocrine factors is unknown. We show that after PH subsets of the hematopoietic cells, (i.e. platelets), are recruited to liver sinusoids and activate LSECs by depositing VEGF-A and SDF-1. In addition to VEGFR2, chemokine receptor for SDF-1, CXCR7, is upregulated specifically on LSECs. Based on these data, we hypothesize that after PH, hematopoietic cells, specifically activated platelets, are recruited to liver LSECs and by deploying VEGF-A and SDF-1 stimulate VEGFR2+CXCR7+ LSECs to produce hepatocyte-active angiocrine factors that initiate and maintain liver regeneration. We will employ liver regeneration and angiogenic models developed in our laboratory to examine these hypotheses by executing the following experiments:
Aim 1. Determine the mechanism by which activation of CXCR7 in VEGFR2+ LSECs support angiocrine-mediated hepatocyte regeneration.
Aim 2. Define the role of recruited hematopoietic cells, specifically platelets in mediating LSEC activation driving liver regeneration.
Aim 3. Determine the role of reciprocal interaction between platelets and Akt-activated LSECs in angiocrine factor induction and accelerating hepatocyte proliferation. Our approach to improve expansion of hepatocytes by unraveling the mechanism by which LSECs support liver regeneration will pave the way for identification of angiocrine factors that support long-term proliferation of functional hepatocytes and engraftment into the liver. In addition, our proposed experiments will allow for development of strategies in which by proper activation of LSECs, will set the stage for accelerating liver regeneration in the clinical setting.
Liver transplantation is the mainstay of treatment for patients with end-stage liver disease due to hepatitis, genetic disorders and tumor metastasis. However, the paucity in genetically matched donor results in increased morbidity and mortality of many patients who could have otherwise been treated effectively with liver or hepatocyte transplantation. Indeed, every year more than 50,000 individuals succumb to the complications of liver disease with more than 15,000 patients awaiting a liver transplant. Hepatocyte transplantation provides for a clinically plausible approach to improve liver function. Therefore, identification of the molecular and cellular pathways that allow expansion and long-term engraftment of hepatocyte or augment liver regeneration will have significant therapeutic impact. We have shown that liver blood vessels that are lined by specialized endothelial cells produce specific set of growth factors that support expansion of hepatocytes and augment liver regeneration. In this proposal, we have proposed experiments to identify the factors that stimulate liver blood vessels to support long-term hepatocyte engraftment into the liver as well as augmenting liver regeneration. We hope our studies will lay the foundation for designing pre-clinical and clinical trials to exploit the potential of liver blood vessel endothelial cells to imrove the outcome of hepatocyte and liver transplantation.
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