The liver is capable of full regeneration following several types and rounds of injury, ranging from hepatectomy to toxin-mediated damage. The source of this regenerative capacity has long been a hotly debated topic. The damage response that occurs when hepatocyte proliferation is impaired is thought to be mediated by oval/dedifferentiated progenitor cells, which replenish the hepatocyte and ductal compartments of the liver. Recently, reports have questioned whether these oval/progenitor cells truly serve as the facultative stem cell of the liver following toxin-mediated damage. In this issue of the JCI, Kordes and colleagues use lineage tracing to follow transplanted rat hepatic stellate cells, a resident liver mesenchymal cell population, in hosts that have suffered liver damage. Transplanted stellate cells repopulated the damaged rat liver by contributing to the oval cell response. These data establish yet another cell type of mesenchymal origin as the progenitor for the oval/ductular response in the rat. The lack of uniformity between different damage models, the extent of the injury to the liver parenchyma, and potential species-specific differences might be at the core of the discrepancy between different studies. Taken together, these data imply a considerable degree of plasticity in the liver, whereby several cell types can contribute to regeneration.
Christopher J. Hindley, Gianmarco Mastrogiovanni, Meritxell Huch
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