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The homeobox transcription factor Prox1 is highly conserved in embryonic hepatoblasts and in adult and transformed hepatocytes, but is absent from bile duct epithelium


Prox1 is a transcription factor with two highly conserved domains, a homeobox and a prospero domain. It has been shown that Prox1 knock-out mice die during early embryonic stages and display a rudimentary liver. We have studied the expression of Prox1 at RNA and protein levels in chick, rat, mouse and human liver and in transformed and non-transformed hepatic cell lines. Prox1 is expressed in early embryonic hepatoblasts and is still expressed in adult hepatocytes. Prox1 protein is located in the nuclei of hepatoblasts, which grow into the neighboring embryonic mesenchyme. The expression pattern in chick, mouse, rat and human embryos is highly conserved. Besides albumin and α-fetal protein, Prox1 belongs to the earliest markers of the developing liver. In adult liver, Prox1 is expressed in hepatocytes but is absent from bile duct epithelial and non-parenchymal cells (Kupffer cells, hepatic stellate cells, sinusoidal endothelial cells and myofibroblasts). Isolated primary hepatocytes and hepatoma cell lines (HepG2, Hep3B) are Prox1 positive, whereas the immortalized murine liver cell-line MMH, which constitutively expresses the receptor c-met, is Prox1 negative. Transfection of MMH with Prox1 cDNA increases the expression level significantly as compared to control transfectants. In HepG2 and Hep3B, the Prox1 levels are even up to 100 times higher. Our studies show that Prox1 is a highly conserved transcription factor, expressed in hepatocytes from the earliest stages of development into adulthood and over-expressed in hepatoma cell lines. Its absence from bile duct epithelial cells suggests a function for the specification of hepatoblasts into hepatocytes. The genes controlled by Prox1 need to be studied in the future.

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We are grateful to Dr. Veronica Bordoni and Prof. Dr. Marco Tripodi for kindly providing the MMH cells. We thank Mrs. L. Koschni, Mrs. U. Pein and Mrs. M. Czeranski for their excellent technical assistance. This study was supported by grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (SFB 402, projects C6, D3 and D4).

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Correspondence to J. Wilting.

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Dudas, J., Papoutsi, M., Hecht, M. et al. The homeobox transcription factor Prox1 is highly conserved in embryonic hepatoblasts and in adult and transformed hepatocytes, but is absent from bile duct epithelium. Anat Embryol 208, 359–366 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-004-0403-4

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  • Liver development
  • Chick
  • Rat
  • Human
  • MMH
  • Hepatoma cells