Hepatocyte cryopreservation: is it time to change the strategy?

Stéphenne et al. World J Gastroenterol. 2010 Jan 7;16(1):1-14.

Liver cell transplantation presents clinical benefit in patients with inborn errors of metabolism as an alternative, or at least as a bridge, to orthotopic liver transplantation. The success of such a therapeutic approach remains limited by the quality of the transplanted cells. Cryopreservation remains the best option for long-term storage of hepatocytes, providing a permanent and sufficient cell supply. However, isolated adult hepatocytes are poorly resistant to such a process, with a significant alteration both at the morphological and functional levels. Hence, the aim of the current review is to discuss the state of the art regarding widely-used hepatocyte cryopreservation protocols, as well as the assays performed to analyse the post-thawing cell quality both in vitro and in vivo. The majority of studies agree upon the poor quality and efficiency of cryopreserved/thawed hepatocytes as compared to freshly isolated hepatocytes. Intracellular ice formation or exposure to hyperosmotic solutions remains the main phenomenon of cryopreservation process, and its effects on cell quality and cell death induction will be discussed. The increased knowledge and understanding of the cryopreservation process will lead to research strategies to improve the viability and the quality of the cell suspensions after thawing. Such strategies, such as vitrification, will be discussed with respect to their potential to significantly improve the quality of cell suspensions dedicated to liver cell-based therapies.