Antigens specific to pericentral hepatocytes have been studied in adult mouse liver, during fetal development, and in cultured fetal hepatoblasts. Antibody reactive with glutamine synthetase stained all fetal liver cells but almost all cells lost this antigen after birth; only a single layer of pericentral cells retained it in adulthood. In contrast, monoclonal antibodies to major urinary protein (MUP) did not detect the antigen until approximately 3 wk after birth, after which time the cells within 6-10 cell diameters of the central veins were positive. Cultured fetal liver cells from embryos at 13 +/- 1 d of gestation were capable of differentiating in vitro to mimic events that would occur had the cells remained in the animal. About 10-20% of the explanted cells grew into clusters of hepatocyte-like cells, all of which stained with albumin antibodies. MUP monoclonals were reactive with one-half of the differentiated fetal hepatocytes. Glutamine synthetase was present in all hepatocytes after several days in culture and gradually decreased and remained in only occasional cells, all of which also contained the MUP antigen. These findings suggest that a sequence of gene controls characterizes expression of specific genes in developing liver, and that differentiating fetal hepatoblasts are capable of undergoing similar patterns of gene activity in culture.

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