Liver progenitor (oval) cells have enormous potential in the treatment of patients with liver disease using a cell therapy approach, but their use is limited by their scarcity and the number of donor livers from which they can be derived. Bone marrow may be a suitable source. Previously the derivation of oval cells from bone marrow was examined in rodents using hepatotoxins and partial hepatectomy to create liver damage. These protocols induce oval cell proliferation; however, they do not produce the disease conditions that occur in humans. In this study we have used the choline-deficient, ethionine-supplemented (CDE) diet (which causes fatty liver) and viral hepatitis as models of chronic injury to evaluate the contribution of bone marrow cells to oval cells under conditions that closely mimic human liver disease pathophysiology. Following transplantation of lacZ-transgenic bone marrow cells into congenic mice, liver injury was induced and the movement of bone marrow cells to the liver monitored. Bone marrow-derived oval cells were observed in response to the CDE diet and viral injury but represented a minor fraction (0-1.6 ) of the oval cell compartment, regardless of injury severity. In all situations only rare, individual bone marrow-derived oval cells were observed. We hypothesized that the bone marrow cells may replenish oval cells that are expended by protracted liver injury and regeneration; however, experiments involving a subsequent episode of chronic liver injury failed to induce proliferation of the bone marrow-derived oval cells that appeared as a result of the first episode. Bone marrow-derived hepatocytes were also observed in all injury models and controls at a frequency unrelated to that of oval cells. We conclude that during viral-and steatosis-induced liver disease the contribution of bone marrow cells to hepatocytes, either via oval cells or by independent mechanisms, is minimal and that the majority of oval cells responding to this injury are sourced from the liver. A? 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.