BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Portal hypertension is the main consequence of cirrhosis, responsible for the complications defining clinical decompensation. The only cure for decompensated cirrhosis is liver transplantation, but it is a limited resource and opens the possibility of regenerative therapy. We investigated the potential of primary human amniotic membrane-derived mesenchymal stromal (hAMSCs) and epithelial (hAECs) stem cells for the treatment of portal hypertension and decompensated cirrhosis.
METHODS: In vitro: Primary liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSECs) and hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) from cirrhotic rats (chronic CCl4 inhalation) were co-cultured with hAMSCs, hAECs or vehicle for 24 hours, and their RNA profile was analysed. In vivo: CCl4-cirrhotic rats received 4x106 hAMSCs, 4x106 hAECs, or vehicle (NaCl 0.9%) (intraperitoneal). At 2-weeks we analysed: a) portal pressure (PP) and hepatic microvascular function; b) LSECs and HSCs phenotype; c) hepatic fibrosis and inflammation.
RESULTS: In vitro experiments revealed sinusoidal cell phenotype amelioration when co-cultured with stem cells. Cirrhotic rats receiving stem cells, particularly hAMSCs, had significantly lower PP than vehicle-treated animals, together with improved liver microcirculatory function. This hemodynamic amelioration was associated with improvement in LSECs capillarization and HSCs de-activation, though hepatic collagen was not reduced. Rats that received amnion derived stem cells had markedly reduced hepatic inflammation and oxidative stress. Finally, liver function tests significantly improved in rats receiving hAMSCs.
CONCLUSIONS: This preclinical study shows that infusion of human amniotic stem cells effectively decreases PP by ameliorating liver microcirculation, suggesting that it may represent a new treatment option for advanced cirrhosis with portal hypertension.