Recent functional research studies suggest an anti-fibrotic role for natural killer (NK) cells coupled with a profibrotic role for CD8 cells. However, the morphological cellular interplay between the different cell types is less clear. To investigate lymphocyte/hepatic stellate cell (HSC) interactions, hepatic fibrosis was induced by administering carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) intraperitoneally (i.p.) for 4 weeks in C57Bl/6 mice. Animals were killed at 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4 weeks. Liver sections were stained for Sirius red. Confocal microscopy was used to evaluate alpha smooth-muscle actin (αSMA) and lymphocyte subsets in liver sections. At weeks 0 and 4, liver protein extracts were assessed for αSMA by Western blotting and isolated liver lymphocytes as well as HSC were analysed by fluorescence activated cell sorter (FACS). Similar to the results obtained from classical Sirius red staining and αSMA blotting, analysis of liver sections by confocal microscopy revealed a marked and continuous accumulation of αSMA staining along sequential experimental check-points after administering CCl4. Although the number of all liver lymphocyte subsets increased following fibrosis induction, FACS analysis revealed an increase in the distribution of liver CD8 subsets and a decrease of CD4 T cells. Confocal microscopy showed a significant early appearance of CD8 and NK cells, and to a lesser extent CD4 T cells, appearing only from week 2. Lymphocytes were seen in proximity only to HSC, mainly in the periportal area and along fibrotic septa, suggesting a direct interaction. Notably, lymphocyte subsets were undetectable in naive liver sections. Freshly isolated HCS show high expression of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II and CD11c. In the animal model of hepatic fibrosis, lymphocytes infiltrate into the liver parenchyma and it is thought that they attach directly to activated HSC. Because HSCs express CD11c/class II molecules, interactions involving them might reflect that HSCs have an antigen-presenting capacity.
- Hepatic fibrosis
- Stellate cells