Modulation of mitochondrial DNA copy number to induce hepatocytic differentiation of human Amniotic Epithelial cells

Vijesh Vaghjiani, Jason E. Cain, William Lee, Vijayaganapathy Vaithilingam, Bernard E. Tuch, Justin C. St John

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Mitochondrial deoxyribonucleic acid (mtDNA) copy number is tightly regulated during pluripotency and differentiation. There is increased demand of cellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP) during differentiation for energy-intensive cell types such as hepatocytes and neurons to meet the cell's functional requirements. During hepatocyte differentiation, mtDNA copy number should be synchronously increased to generate sufficient ATP through oxidative phosphorylation. Unlike bone marrow mesenchymal cells, mtDNA copy number failed to increase by 28 days of differentiation of human amniotic epithelial cells (hAEC) into hepatocyte-like cells (HLC) despite their expression of some end-stage hepatic markers. This was due to higher levels of DNA methylation at exon 2 of POLGA, the mtDNA-specific replication factor. Treatment with a DNA demethylation agent, 5-azacytidine, resulted in increased mtDNA copy number, reduced DNA methylation at exon 2 of POLGA, and reduced hepatic gene expression. Depletion of mtDNA followed by subsequent differentiation did not increase mtDNA copy number, but reduced DNA methylation at exon 2 of POLGA and increased expression of hepatic and pluripotency genes. We encapsulated hAEC in barium alginate microcapsules and subsequently differentiated them into HLC. Encapsulation resulted in no net increase of mtDNA copy number but a significant reduction in DNA methylation of POLGA. RNAseq analysis showed that differentiated HLC express hepatocyte-specific genes but also increased expression of inflammatory interferon genes. Differentiation in encapsulated cells showed suppression of inflammatory genes as well as increased expression of genes associated with hepatocyte function pathways and networks. This study demonstrates that an increase in classical hepatic gene expression can be achieved in HLC through encapsulation, although they fail to effectively regulate mtDNA copy number.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1505-1519
Number of pages15
JournalStem Cells and Development
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2017


  • differentiation
  • hepatocyte-like cells
  • human amniotic epithelial cells
  • mitochondrial DNA copy number

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