Liver regeneration: Methods for monitoring and their applications

N. Assy, G. Y. Minuk

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


Liver regeneration is an essential component of the reparative process following liver injury and surgical resection. It can be assessed by different tissue-based tests such as liver weights, mitotic counts, DNA contents and synthesis rates, immunohistochemical staining of nuclear antigens, gene expressions and certain protein levels or various serum-based tests that largely consist of specific enzyme determinations or documentation of certain proliferation markers. Although the simplest tissue-based test of liver regeneration is measurement of liver weights, these determinations are influenced by the extent of deposition of various materials not directly related to regeneration, such as lipids, glycogen and blood volumes. Because mitosis constitutes a very short segment of the cell cycle, mitotic counts are infrequently observed by light microscopy. Thymidine and BrdU incorporation into DNA are the reference tools for studying DNA synthesis, but their use requires pre-injection with radioactive isotopes or nucleotides which render them impractical for human studies. Flow cytometry is an accurate and objective method of monitoring hepatic regenerative activity but requires sophisticated equipment that is not generally available in many laboratories. Immunohistochemical staining for nuclear antigens (Ki-67, proliferating cell nuclear antigen [PCNA], DNA polymerase alpha and nucleolar organizer region [NOR] proteins) are acceptable and commonly used methods of monitoring regenerative activity but are subject to inter- and intra-observer variability. Gene expression rates such as Histone-3 mRNA abundance are hampered by the relatively low rates of gene transcription and the need for recombinant DNA technology. Protein and enzyme levels in liver tissues, such as putrescine, ornithine decarboxylase and thymidine kinase, are not precise and are confounded by the nutritional status of the host. While PCNA protein levels measured by immunoblot hold promise as a simple, accurate and reproducible marker of liver regeneration, additional studies are required to determine if this is a valid marker of regenerative activity in various models of hepatic injury and in humans. Of the serum-based determinations: thymidine, kinase, ornithine decarboxylase, fibronectin, alpha fetoprotein, and early pregnancy factor offer practical and non-invasive tools to monitor liver regeneration, but the sensitivity and specificity of these tests have yet to be determined. In conclusion, many tissue and serum based methods have been employed in clinical and experimental studies to assess liver regeneration; however, a gold standard has yet to be identified. Because of the disadvantages inherent in each method, and until a new, more accurate marker is identified, clinicians and scientists should incorporate a minimum of two independent markers in studies of liver regeneration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)945-952
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Hepatology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1997
Externally publishedYes


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