MRC Human Genetics Unit
Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit


Uncoupling scarring and repair

Dissecting the role of Wnt-Planar Cell Polarity signalling in bile duct scarring and regeneration: January 2020

Vangl2 in ducts magenta and cyan

Chronic bile duct disease can cause liver scarring and, in some cases, result in the need for liver transplantation. The scarring process can be damaging to the liver, but the cells involved in scarring also play a role in healing and regenerating the liver.

Scientists at the MRC Human Genetics Unit, University of Edinburgh led a study to better understand if it is possible to reduce liver scarring while still allowing regeneration.

The bile duct has a remarkable regenerative capability and, following injury, biliary epithelial cells (BECs) proliferate to form new tubules in the bile duct, restoring function of the liver.

The researchers explored a network of signals triggered by a protein called Wnt that can trigger cell growth, but also guide cells to form organs correctly. Using human liver tissue, mouse models of bile duct injury and cell models they monitored this pathway to better understand how scarring arises.

When the scientists blocked this pathway in cells and mouse models they found that scarring was reduced, while cell growth did not appear to be affected. This suggests that it could be possible to develop drugs against this biological pathway that can reduce damaging scarring while permitting the bile duct to regenerate.