BACKGROUND & AIMS: Adult liver stem cells are usually maintained in a quiescent/slow-cycling state. However, a proliferative population, marked by leucine-rich repeat-containing G-protein coupled receptor 5 (LGR5), was recently identified as an important liver stem cell population. We aimed to investigate the dynamics and functions of proliferative and quiescent stem cells in healthy and injured livers.METHODS: We studied LGR5-positive stem cells using diphtheria toxin receptor and green fluorescent protein (GFP) knock-in mice. In these mice, LGR5-positive cells specifically coexpress diphtheria toxin receptor and the GFP reporter. Lineage-tracing experiments were performed in mice in which LGR5-positive stem cells and their daughter cells expressed a yellow fluorescent protein/mTmG reporter. Slow-cycling stem cells were investigated using GFP-based, Tet-on controlled transgenic mice. We studied the dynamics of both stem cell populations during liver homeostasis and injury induced by carbon tetrachloride. Stem cells were isolated from mouse liver and organoid formation assays were performed. We analyzed hepatocyte and cholangiocyte lineage differentiation in cultured organoids.RESULTS: We did not detect LGR5-expressing stem cells in livers of mice at any stage of a lifespan, but only following liver injury induced by carbon tetrachloride. In the liver stem cell niche, where the proliferating LGR5+ cells are located, we identified a quiescent/slow-cycling cell population, called label-retaining cells (LRCs). These cells were present in the homeostatic liver, capable of retaining the GFP label over 1 year, and expressed a panel of progenitor/stem cell markers. Isolated single LRCs were capable of forming organoids that could be carried in culture, expanded for months, and differentiated into hepatocyte and cholangiocyte lineages in vitro, demonstrating their bona fide stem cell properties. More interestingly, LRCs responded to liver injury and gave rise to LGR5-expressing stem cells, as well as other potential progenitor/stem cell populations, including SOX9- and CD44-positive cells.CONCLUSIONS: Proliferative LGR5 cells are an intermediate stem cell population in the liver that emerge only during tissue injury. In contrast, LRCs are quiescent stem cells that are present in homeostatic liver, respond to tissue injury, and can give rise to LGR5 stem cells, as well as SOX9- and CD44-positive cells.

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Department of Gastroenterology & Hepatology

Cao, W., Chen, K., Bolkestein, M., Yin, Y., Verstegen, M., Bijvelds, M., … Pan, Q. (2017). Dynamics of Proliferative and Quiescent Stem Cells in Liver Homeostasis and Injury. Gastroenterology, 153(4), 1133–1147. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2017.07.006