25 September 2018
Two distinct stem/progenitor cell populations of biliary origin have been identified in the adult liver and biliary tree. Hepatic Stem/progenitor Cells (HpSCs) are bipotent progenitor cells located within the canals of Hering and can be differentiated into mature hepatocytes and cholangiocytes; Biliary Tree Stem/progenitor Cells (BTSCs) are multipotent stem cells located within the peribiliary glands of large intrahepatic and extrahepatic bile ducts and able to differentiate into hepatic and pancreatic lineages. HpSCs and BTSCs are endowed in a specialized niche constituted by supporting cells and extracellular matrix compounds. The actual contribution of these stem cell niches to liver and biliary tree homeostatic regeneration is marginal; this is due to the high replicative capabilities and plasticity of mature parenchymal cells (i.e., hepatocytes and cholangiocytes). However, the study of human liver and biliary diseases disclosed how these stem cell niches are involved in the regenerative response after extensive and/or chronic injuries, with the activation of specific signaling pathways. The present review summarizes the contribution of stem/progenitor cell niches in human liver diseases, underlining mechanisms of activation and clinical implications, including fibrogenesis and disease progression.