Matrix stiffness and shear stresses modulate hepatocyte functions in a fibrotic liver sinusoidal model

Wang Li, Peiwen Li, Ning Li, Yu Du, Shouqin Lü, David Elad, Mian Long*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Extracellular matrix (ECM) rigidity has important effects on cell behaviors and increases sharply in liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. Hepatic blood flow is essential in maintaining hepatocytes' (HCs) functions. However, it is still unclear how matrix stiffness and shear stresses orchestrate HC phenotype in concert. A fibrotic three-dimensional (3-D) liver sinusoidal model is constructed using a porous membrane sandwiched between two polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) layers with respective flow channels. The HCs are cultured in collagen gels of various stiffnesses in the lower channel, whereas the upper channel is pre-seeded with liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSECs) and accessible to shear flow. The results reveal that HCs cultured within stiffer matrices exhibit reduced albumin production and cytochrome P450 (CYP450) reductase expression. Low shear stresses enhance synthetic and metabolic functions of HC, whereas high shear stresses lead to the loss of HC phenotype. Furthermore, both mechanical factors regulate HC functions by complementing each other. These observations are likely attributed to mechanically induced mass transport or key signaling molecule of hepatocyte nuclear factor 4a (HNF4a). The present study results provide an insight into understanding the mechanisms of HC dysfunction in liver fibrosis and cirrhosis, especially from the viewpoint of matrix stiffness and blood flow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)G272-G282
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Hepatocytes
  • Liver fibrosis
  • Matrix stiffness
  • Shear flow
  • Three-dimensional liver sinusoidal model


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