Adult mouse hepatocytes respond in vivo to experimentally induced acute inflammation by an increased synthesis and secretion of alpha 1-acid glycoprotein, haptoglobin, hemopexin, and serum amyloid A. Concurrently, the production of albumin and apolipoprotein A-1 is reduced. To define possible mediators of this response and to study their action in tissue culture, we established primary cultures of hepatocytes. Various hormones and factors that have been proposed to regulate the hepatic acute phase reaction were tested for their ability to modulate the expression of plasma proteins in these cells. Acute phase plasma and conditioned medium from activated monocytes influenced the production of most acute phase plasma proteins, and the regulation appears to occur at the level of functional mRNA. Purified hormones produced a significant anabolic response in only a few cases: dexamethasone was found to be effective in maintaining differentiated expression of the cells; and glucagon produced a specific inhibition of haptoglobin synthesis. When cells were treated with a combination of conditioned monocyte medium and dexamethasone, secretion of proteins was markedly reduced. The carbohydrate moieties of all plasma glycoproteins were incompletely modified, apparently as a result of decreased intracellular transport of newly synthesized plasma proteins. Although primary hepatocytes were not phenotypically stable in tissue culture, the cells nevertheless retained a broad response spectrum to exogenous signals. We propose this as a useful system to study the production of plasma proteins and thereby pinpoint the nature and activity of effectors mediating the hepatic acute phase reaction.

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