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Developmental Biology

Development of an Ethanol-induced Fibrotic Liver Model in Zebrafish to Study Progenitor Cell-mediated Hepatocyte Regeneration

Published: May 13th, 2016



1School of Biology, Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, Georgia Institute of Technology

Sustained fibrosis with deposition of excessive extracellular matrix proteins leads to cirrhosis. Alcohol abuse is one of the main causes of severe liver disease. We established an ethanol-induced zebrafish fibrotic liver model to study the mechanisms and strategies of promoting hepatocyte regeneration upon alcohol-induced injury.

Sustained liver fibrosis with continuation of extracellular matrix (ECM) protein build-up results in the loss of cellular competency of the liver, leading to cirrhosis with hepatocellular dysfunction. Among multiple hepatic insults, alcohol abuse can lead to significant health problems including liver failure and hepatocellular carcinoma. Nonetheless, the identity of endogenous cellular sources that regenerate hepatocytes in response to alcohol has not been properly investigated. Moreover, few studies have effectively modeled hepatocyte regeneration upon alcohol-induced injury. We recently reported on establishing an ethanol (EtOH)-induced fibrotic liver model in zebrafish in which hepatic progenitor cells (HPCs) gave rise to hepatocytes upon near-complete hepatocyte loss in the presence of fibrogenic stimulus. Furthermore, through chemical screens using this model, we identified multiple small molecules that enhance hepatocyte regeneration. Here we describe in detail the procedures to develop an EtOH-induced fibrotic liver model and to perform chemical screens using this model in zebrafish. This protocol will be a critical tool to delineate the molecular and cellular mechanisms of how hepatocyte regenerates in the fibrotic liver. Furthermore, these methods will facilitate potential discovery of novel therapeutic strategies for chronic liver disease in vivo.

Despite the remarkable regeneration capacity of hepatocytes1, which are the major parenchymal cell type of the liver, chronic liver failure impairs this ability, leading to hepatic progenitor cell (HPC)-dependent regeneration2.

Chronic liver damage is mainly derived from alcohol abuse, chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection3 and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)4. It leads to sustained liver fibrosis, which is associated with the accumulation of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins. Persisting ECM accumulation distorts intact hepatic architecture by forming a fibrous scar tissue5

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Zebrafish were raised and bred using a standard protocol that meets the criteria of the National Institutes of Health and approved by the Georgia Institute of Technology Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. 

1. Preparation of Solutions

  1. Prepare 20 L egg water (interchangeably used with ‘embryo medium’)  to maintain embryonic/larval zebrafish. Dissolve 1.5 g CaSO4 and 6 g instant ocean sea salt in 250 ml distilled water. Pour into a carboy filled with 20 L di.......

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Figure 1 shows the development of an EtOH-induced fibrotic liver model in larval zebrafish. To optimize a protocol for exposing zebrafish larvae to EtOH, we first assessed EtOH toxicity. 2.5 days-post-fertilization (dpf) larvae were exposed to EtOH concentration 1%, 1.5%, or 2% for 24 hr followed by a concurrent 24 hr EtOH/MTZ treatment. Exposure to 2% EtOH caused high mortality, while nearly all larvae exposed to 1% EtOH or less showed minimal fibrogenic changes with rar.......

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We observed HPC-mediated hepatocyte regeneration in the EtOH/MTZ-treated recovering livers, suggesting that even in the presence of substantial amount of ECM proteins including fibrillar type I collagen, the HPCs retain their competency to regenerate as hepatocytes. The MTZ only-treatment did not increase deposition of ECM proteins significantly, whereas the EtOH only-treatment did not induce HPC activation15. By utilizing the combined EtOH/MTZ treatment, we were able to investigate HPC-driven regeneration in .......

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This work was supported in part by grants from the GTEC (2731336 and 1411318), the NIH (K01DK081351), and the NSF (1354837) to C. H. S. We thank Alem Giorgis for critical reading of the manuscript.


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Calcium sulfate hemihydrate (CaSO4) Acros AC385355000
Magnesium sulfate (MgSO4) EMD MX0075
1,4-Piperazinediethanesulfonic acid (PIPES) Sigma-Aldrich P6757
Ethylene glycol-bis(2-aminoethylether)-N,N,N′,N′-tetraacetic acid (EGTA) Sigma-Aldrich E3889
Ethanol Sigma-Aldrich E7023 200 proof
Formaldehyde Fisher Scientific F79-500
Metronidazole (MTZ) Sigma-Aldrich M3761
1-phenyl-2-thiourea (PTU) Sigma-Aldrich P7629
3-amino benzoic acid ethyl ester (Tricaine) Sigma-Aldrich A5040
Phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) tablet Amresco E404 Dissolve one tablet with 100 ml distilled water
Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) Sigma-Aldrich D2438
Bovine serum albumin Fisher Scientific BP1600
Triton X-100 Fisher Scientific BP151
Low-melting agarose  Amresco BP165
Stem Cell Signaling Compound Library Selleck Chemicals L2100 10mM stock in DMSO
ActiProbe-1K Library Timtec ActiProbe-1K 10mM stock in DMSO
SB 415286 Selleck Chemicals S2729 Dissolve with DMSO to 10mM
CHIR-99021 Selleck Chemicals S2924 Dissolve with DMSO to 10mM
Anti-Collagen I antibody Abcam ab23730 Use at 1:100 for immunostaining, reacts with fish
AlexaFluor 647 Donkey anti-rabbit IgG (H+L) Molecular Probes A31573 Use at 1:200 for immunostaining
Mounting media (Vectorshield) Vector Laboratories H-1400
100 mm petri dish VWR 25384-088
24-well plate VWR 10062-896
Forceps Fine Science Tools 11255-20 Dumont #55
Glass slide VWR 48312-003 75x25 mm
Cover glass VWR 48366-045 18 mm
Plastic wrap Fisher Scientific 22305654
Aluminum foil Fisher Scientific 1213100
Kimwipes Kimberly-Clark 34155
Vibrotome Leica VT1000 S
Stereo microscope Leica M80
Epifluoresent microscope Leica M205 FA
Confocol microscope Zeiss LSM700

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