, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 3-15

Structure and function of hepatic stellate cells

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Abstract

Hepatic stellate cells (vitamin A-storing cells, lipocytes, interstitial cells, fat-storing cells, Ito cells) exist in the space between parenchymal cells and sinusoidal endothelial cells of the hepatic lobule and store 80% of retinoids in the whole body as retinyl palmitate in lipid droplets in the cytoplasm. In physiological conditions, these cells play pivotal roles in the regulation of retinoid homeostasis; they express specific receptors for retinol-binding protein (RBP), a binding protein specific for retinol, on their cell surface, and take up the complex of retinol and RBP by receptor-mediated endocytosis. Hepatic stellate cells in arctic animals such as polar bears and arctic foxes store 20–100 times the levels of retinoids found in humans or rats. In pathological conditions such as liver fibrosis, hepatic stellate cells lose retinoids, and synthesize a large amount of extracellular matrix (ECM) components including collagen, proteoglycan, and adhesive glycoproteins. Morphology of these cells also changes from the star-shaped stellate cells to that of fibroblasts or myofibroblasts. The three-dimensional structure of ECM components was found to regulate reversibly the morphology, proliferation, and functions of the hepatic stellate cells. Molecular mechanisms in the reversible regulation of the stellate cells by ECM imply cell-surface integrin binding to ECM components, followed by signal transduction processes and then cytoskeleton assembly. Stellate cells also exist in extrahepatic organs such as pancreas, lung, kidney, and intestine. Hepatic and extrahepatic stellate cells form the stellate cell system.