A study from Dr. Dipa Pradhan-Sundd  and Dr. Monga’s group in The American Journal of Pathology identifies simultaneous loss of β- and γ-catenin in a subset of liver samples from patients with cholestatic liver disease. Dual loss of these catenins in the liver led to loss of hepatocyte differentiation and polarity. Other PLRC members who contributed to the study include Dr. Sungjin Ko; Dr. Kari Nejak-Bowen, Director of the Enrichment Program; Dr. Donna Stolz, Director of the ACTIC; Dr. Silvia Liu, Assistant Director and Manager of GSBC; and Dr. Aaron Bell.

Pradhan-Sundd T, Liu S, Singh S, Podder M, Ko S, Bell A, Franks J, Huck I, Stolz D, Apte U, Ranganathan S, Nejak-Bowen K, Monga SP.Am J Pathol. 2021 Mar 1:S0002-9440(21)00075-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2021.02.008. Online ahead of print. PMID: 33662348

Paul Monga, MD
Kari Nejak-Bowen, MBA, PhD
Tirthadipa Pradhan-Sundd, PhD
Aaron Bell, PhD
Silvia (Shuchang) Liu, PhD
Sungjin Ko, DVM, PhD
Donna Stolz, PhD


Hepatocytes are highly polarized epithelia. Loss of hepatocyte polarity is associated with various liver diseases, including cholestasis. However, the molecular underpinnings of hepatocyte polarization remain poorly understood. Previously, we have shown that loss of β-catenin at adherens junctions (AJs) is compensated by γ-catenin and dual loss of both catenins in dual knockouts (DKO) in mice liver leads to progressive intrahepatic cholestasis. However, the clinical relevance of this observation, and further phenotypic characterization of the phenotype, is important. Here, we identify simultaneous loss of β- and γ-catenin in a subset of liver samples from patients of progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis and primary sclerosing cholangitis. Hepatocytes in DKO mice exhibited defect in apical-basolateral localization of polarity proteins, impaired bile canaliculi formation, and loss of microvilli. Loss of polarity in DKO livers manifested as epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, increased hepatocyte proliferation, and suppression of hepatocyte differentiation, which was associated with up-regulation of TGFβ signaling and repression of Hnf4α expression and activity. In conclusion, concomitant loss of the two catenins in the liver may be playing a pathogenic role in subsets of cholangiopathies. Our findings also support a previously unknown role β- and γ-catenin in the maintenance of hepatocyte polarity. Improved understanding of the regulation of hepatocyte polarization processes by β and γ-catenin could potentially benefit development of new therapies for cholestasis.

Keywords: Cell-cell junction; Wnt signaling; adherens junctions; cholestasis; hepatocyte differentiation; hepatocyte polarity; liver.