IMR Press / FBL / Volume 29 / Issue 2 / DOI: 10.31083/j.fbl2902062
Open Access Original Research
Single-Cell Transcriptome Analysis Identified Core Genes and Transcription Factors in Mesenchymal Cell Differentiation during Liver Cirrhosis
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1 College of Biological and Chemical Engineering, Zhejiang University of Science and Technology, 310023 Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
2 College of Information and Electronic Engineering, Zhejiang University of Science and Technology, 310023 Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
3 Division of Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery, The Fourth Affiliated Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, 322000 Yiwu, Zhejiang, China
*Correspondence: (Hui-Lin Zheng); (Lei Zhang)
Front. Biosci. (Landmark Ed) 2024, 29(2), 62;
Submitted: 21 August 2023 | Revised: 5 November 2023 | Accepted: 30 November 2023 | Published: 6 February 2024
Copyright: © 2024 The Author(s). Published by IMR Press.
This is an open access article under the CC BY 4.0 license.

Background: Mesenchymal cells, including hepatic stellate cells (HSCs), fibroblasts (FBs), myofibroblasts (MFBs), and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs), are the main cells that affect liver fibrosis and play crucial roles in maintaining tissue homeostasis. The dynamic evolution of mesenchymal cells is very important but remains to be explored for researching the reversible mechanism of hepatic fibrosis and its evolution mechanism of hepatic fibrosis to cirrhosis. Methods: Here, we analysed the transcriptomes of more than 50,000 human single cells from three cirrhotic and three healthy liver tissue samples and the mouse hepatic mesenchymal cells of two healthy and two fibrotic livers to reconstruct the evolutionary trajectory of hepatic mesenchymal cells from a healthy to a cirrhotic state, and a subsequent integrative analysis of bulk RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) data of HSCs from quiescent to active (using transforming growth factor β1 (TGF-β1) to stimulate LX-2) to inactive states. Results: We identified core genes and transcription factors (TFs) involved in mesenchymal cell differentiation. In healthy human and mouse livers, the expression of NR1H4 and members of the ZEB families (ZEB1 and ZEB2) changed significantly with the differentiation of FB into HSC and VSMC. In cirrhotic human livers, VSMCs transformed into HSCs with downregulation of MYH11, ACTA2, and JUNB and upregulation of PDGFRB, RGS5, IGFBP5, CD36, A2M, SOX5, and MEF2C. Following HSCs differentiation into MFBs with the upregulation of COL1A1, TIMP1, and NR1H4, a small number of MFBs reverted to inactivated HSCs (iHSCs). The differentiation trajectory of mouse hepatic mesenchymal cells was similar to that in humans; however, the evolution trajectory and proportion of cell subpopulations that reverted from MFBs to iHSCs suggest that the mouse model may not accurately reflect disease progression and outcome in humans. Conclusions: Our analysis elucidates primary genes and TFs involved in mesenchymal cell differentiation during liver fibrosis using scRNA-seq data, and demonstrated the core genes and TFs in process of HSC activation to MFB and MFB reversal to iHSC using bulk RNA-seq data of human fibrosis induced by TGF-β1. Furthermore, our findings suggest promising targets for the treatment of liver fibrosis and provide valuable insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying its onset and progression.

liver fibrosis
hepatic stellate cells
single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq)
RNA velocity
2020C03057/Key Research and Development Program of Zhejiang Province
Fig. 1.
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