Activation of pluripotent genes in hepatic progenitor cells in the transition of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis to pre-malignant lesions

Gang Xu, Juan Ye, Xue Jing Liu, Ning Ping Zhang, Yi Ming Zhao, Jia Fan, Xiu Ping Liu, Jian Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis is considered as a precancerous condition. However, hepatic carcinogenesis from NASH is poorly understood. This study aims to investigate the activation of pluripotent genes (c-Myc, Oct-4, KLF-4, and Nanog) and morphogenic gene (Gli-1) in hepatic progenitor cells from patient specimens and in an animal model to determine the possibility of normal stem/progenitor cells becoming the origin of NASH-HCC. In this study, expression of pluripotent and morphogenic genes in human NASH-HCC tissues was significantly upregulated compared to adjacent non-tumor liver tissues. After feeding high-fat/calorie diet plus high fructose/glucose in drinking water (HFC diet plus HF/G) for up to 12 months, mice developed obesity, insulin resistance, and steatohepatitis with significant necroptotic inflammation and fibrotic progression, as well as occurrence of hyperplastic nodules with dysplasia; and this model represents pathohistologically as a transition from NASH to NASH-HCC in a pre-carcinomatous stage. High expression of pluripotent and morphogenic genes was immunohistochemically visualized in the dysplasia areas of mouse liver, where there were many OV-6-positive cells, indicating proliferation of HOCs in NASH with fibrotic progression. Moreover, oncogenic transcription factors (c-Myc, KLF-4, and Nanog) were co-localized in these hepatic progenitor cells. In conclusion, pluripotent and morphogenic genes may contribute to the reprogramming of hepatic progenitor cells in driving these cells to be the origin of NASH-HCC in a steatotic and inflamed microenvironment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1201-1217
Number of pages17
JournalLaboratory investigation; a journal of technical methods and pathology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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