Growth Regulation of the Intrahepatic Biliary Tree
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Cholangiocytes are the target cells in chronic cholestatic liver diseases such as primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), which are characterized by the damage, proliferation and differentiation of cholangiocytes of different sizes (i.e., small and large). Cholangiocyte differentiation and biliar remodeling are critical for the maintenance of biliary mass and the functional recovery during the pathogenesis of these devastating liver diseases. The elucidation of the intracellular mechanisms regulating the differential regenerative responses of small and large cholangiocytes to cholestasis and liver injury/toxins will play a pivotal role in the development o therapeutic strategies for the treatment of cholestatic liver diseases. During chronic hepatobiliary injury, a population of bipotent liver progenitor cells becomes activated to replenis both cholangiocytes and hepatocytes. If small cholangiocytes with multipotential capacity exist within human and rodent bile ducts, these cells should possess the ability to differentiate into either large cholangiocytes or hepatocytes during liver damage, such as diseased conditions in which large cholangiocytes or hepatocytes are lost or regenerative mechanisms are hampered. The plasticity of intrahepatic cholangiocytes has been postulated that terminally differentiated cells of one lineage may directly differentiate into another lineage or undergo trans-differentiation. Therefore, specific subpopulations of cells, such as small cholangiocytes that express known biliary progenitor cell markers, can be hypothesized to contain a multipotent cell population when exposed to certain pathological conditions. We propose the central hypothesis that small cholangiocytes contribute to the recovery of biliary injury through acquiring the phenotypes of liver progenitor cells and large cholangiocytes under diseased conditions. Systematic investigation of pluripotent genes and microRNAs is proposed in this application as markers in small cholangiocytes with the therapeutic potentials for cholestatic liver injury. The central hypothesis will be evaluated by three specific aims. First, we will distinguish pluripotentfunctional signaling pathways involved in tissue repair-related cellular functions in small and large cholangiocytes. Second, we will identify TGF-Â¿ dependent miRNAs involved in differentiation/regeneration-related cellular functions in small cholangiocytes. Last, we will determine the effects of small cholangiocytes and their-associated miRNAs on accelerating the morphologic and functional recovery of transgenic and chronic cholestatic liver injury in specific animal models. Therapeutic effects of cell engraft/miRNA manipulation on biliary cell growth and differentiation will be evaluated in vivo. Novel insights into the physiological roles and mechanisms of molecular and functional heterogeneity in human biliary epithelium will be obtained. Meanwhile, the fundamental knowledge obtained in the regulation of growth, differentiation and remodeling by small cholangiocytes/biliary committed progenitors is expected to advance the field of cholangiocyte biology/ pathophysiology.