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2023, Vol. 27 ›› Issue (1): 28-33

Establishment and identification of a protocol for highly efficient differentiation of hepatocytes from human pluripotent stem cells

Huang Wenjun1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Zhou Yafei1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Wang Jie1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Li Huan1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Zhang Yanmin1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Zhou Rui1, 2, 3, 4, 5   

  1. 1Key Laboratory of Precision Medicine to Pediatric Diseases of Shaanxi Province, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China; 2Xi’an Key Laboratory of Children’s Health and Diseases, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China; 3Shaanxi Institute for Pediatric Diseases, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China; 4Xi’an Children’s Hospital, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China; 5Affiliated Children’s Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China

  • Received:2021-12-01 Accepted:2022-01-25 Online:2023-01-08 Published:2022-06-06

  • Contact: Zhou Rui, Doctor of Biology, Associate researcher, Key Laboratory of Precision Medicine to Pediatric Diseases of Shaanxi Province, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China; Xi’an Key Laboratory of Children’s Health and Diseases, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China; Shaanxi Institute for Pediatric Diseases, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China; Xi’an Children’s Hospital, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China; Affiliated Children’s Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China

  • About author:Huang Wenjun, Master, Assistant researcher, Key Laboratory of Precision Medicine to Pediatric Diseases of Shaanxi Province, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China; Xi’an Key Laboratory of Children’s Health and Diseases, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China; Shaanxi Institute for Pediatric Diseases, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China; Xi’an Children’s Hospital, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China; Affiliated Children’s Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University, Xi’an 710002, Shaanxi Province, China

  • Supported by:

    the National Natural Science Foundation of China, No. 81974014 (to ZYM); Xi'an Municipal Health Commission Health Research Talent Project—General Cultivation Project, No. 2022ms08 (to ZR)


Abstract: BACKGROUND: Similar to the human embryonic stem cells, human induced pluripotent stem cells possess the ability to differentiate into three germ layers and self-renewal capacity. It is of great clinical significance to generate functional hepatocytes from human induced pluripotent stem cells.
OBJECTIVE: To establish a protocol for the directed differentiation into hepatocytes from human induced pluripotent stem cells.
METHODS: Human induced pluripotent stem cells were characterized by a microscope and immunofluorescence. Pluripotent stem cells were differentiated into definitive endoderm, hepatic endoderm, hepatoblasts, and finally functional hepatocytes via sequential modulation of the signaling pathways using recombinant transcription factors. That was, activin A, fibroblast growth factor 4/bone morphogenetic protein 4, hepatocyte growth factor, and tumor suppressor M were added sequentially on days 0, 5, 10, and 15. The morphological features and molecular markers at different stages were dynamically observed by microscopy, real-time quantitative PCR, and ELISA.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSION: (1) The human induced pluripotent stem cells exhibited the typical morphology of pluripotent stem cells and expressed high-levels of the induced pluripotent stem cells-specific markers, SSEA4, SOX2, and OCT4. (2) The human induced pluripotent stem cells were successfully induced sequentially into definitive endoderm cells, hepatoblasts, and hepatocytes. (3) Real-time quantitative PCR showed that with the progression of hepatocyte differentiation, the expression of induced pluripotent stem cells marker (OCT4) was decreased. The expression levels of definitive endoderm (GCS and CXCR4) and hepatic endoderm (HNF4α and HNF1β) markers were increased and then decreased. The expression of hepatocyte markers (CYP34A and ALB) was gradually increased. (4) ELISA results further showed that the hepatocytes after 15 days of induction began to secrete liver-specific proteins (albumin and urea), and their secretory function further increased with the prolongation of time. (5) We conclude that a protocol for differentiation of hepatocytes from human induced pluripotent stem cells was successfully established, which provides an unlimited source of hepatocytes for liver regeneration.
Key words: human induced pluripotent stem cell, hepatocyte, differentiation, definitive endoderm, hepatic endoderm, hepatoblast


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