We used a serum-free, highly defined primary hepatocyte culture model to investigate the mechanisms whereby dexamethasone (Dex) and extracellular matrix (ECM) coordinate cell differentiation and transcriptional responsiveness to the inducer, phenobarbital (PB). Low nanomolar levels of Dex and dilute concentrations of ECM overlay were essential in the maintenance of normal hepatocyte physiology, as assessed by cell morphology, LDH release, expression of the hepatic nuclear factors C/EBPα, -β, -γ, HNF-1α, -1β, -4α, and RXRα, expression of prototypical hepatic marker genes, including albumin and transferrin, and ultimately, cellular capacity to respond to PB. The loss of hepatocyte integrity produced by deficiency of these components correlated with the activation of several stress signaling pathways including the MAPK, SAPK/JNK, and c-Jun signaling pathways, with resulting nuclear recruitment of the activated protein-1 (AP-1) complex. In Dex-deficient cultures, normal cellular function, including the PB induction response, was largely restored in a dose-dependent manner by reintroduction of nanomolar additions of the hormone, in the presence of ECM. Our results demonstrate critical and cooperative roles for Dex and ECM in establishing hepatocyte integrity and in the coordination of an array of liver-specific functions. These studies further establish the PB gene induction response as an exceptionally sensitive indicator of hepatocyte differentiation status.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cell Biology