Immortalized human hepatocytes as a tool for the study of hepatocytic (de-)differentiation

IJ Schippers, H Moshage, H Roelofsen, M Muller, HSA Heymans, M Ruiters, F Kuipers

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Primary human hepatocytes were immortalized by stable transfection with a recombinant plasmid containing the early region of simian virus (SV) 40. The cells were cultured in serum-free, hormonally defined medium during the immortalization procedure. Foci of dividing cells were seen after 3 months. Albumin- and fibrinogen-secreting cells were selected and cloned by limiting dilution to obtain homologous cell populations. The established IHH (immortalized human hepatocyte) cell lines were evaluated for their usefulness in studying the regulation of cell growth and of certain differentiated hepatocyte functions.

IHH cells retain several differentiated features of normal hepatocytes. They display albumin secretion at a level comparable to cultured primary human hepatocytes (30 mu g albumin/ml per day). A portion of the IHH cells are polarized, forming bile canaliculi-like vacuoles where exogeneous organic anions accumulate. The multidrug resistance (MDR) P-glycoprotein, known to be localized at the canalicular membrane, is also present in these vacuoles. The polarized features allowed the use of IHH cells for the study of localization of the newly characterized multidrug resistance protein MRP1. The homologues of MRP were found in hepatocytes, MRP1 and MRP2 (cMOAT), both functioning in ATP-dependent excretion of anionic conjugates. In differentiated hepatocytes, MRP1 expression is extremely low. In contrast, MRP1 is highly expressed in proliferating IHH cells, where it is localized in lateral membranes. A highly differentiated feature of short-term cultured primary hepatocytes which is not detectable in IHH cells is active uptake of the bile salt taurocholate. Furthermore, IHH cells secrete triglyceride (TG)-rich lipoproteins, apolipoprotein B (0.6 mu g/ml per day), and apolipoprotein A-I (1 mu g/ml per day). However, they secrete apoB-containing TG-rich lipoproteins mainly in the LDL density range, while short-term cultured primary hepatocytes mainly secrete TG-rich lipoproteins in the VLDL density range.

In conclusion, functions that are rapidly lost in short-term hepatocyte cultures are, in general, not displayed by IHH cells. Immortalized human hepatocytes provide a valuable tool for studying the regulation of hepatocyte proliferation-related phenomena.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-386
Number of pages12
JournalCell biology and toxicology
Issue number4-5
Publication statusPublished - Jul-1997
EventInternational Congress on Hepatocytes - Applications in Cell Biology, Toxicology and Medicine - , Germany
Duration: 25-Sept-199628-Sept-1996


  • bile salts
  • cell culture
  • immortalization
  • lipoproteins
  • liver
  • plasma proteins
  • transport
  • HEP-G2

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