Depending on their location in the organ, liver cells age differently

13.11.2023 Dr. Peter Tessarz

The epigenome of hepatocytes changes with increasing age. The figure shows a graphical representation of epigenetic measurement data. The further apart two points are, the more different is the epigenome of the cells. © Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing/ P. Tessarz & K. Link

A group of scientists from the Aging Research Excellence Cluster CECAD at the University of Cologne and the Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Aging in Cologne have shown that the cells in the liver of mice age differently depending on which part of the organ they are located in / Publication in ‘Nature Aging’

Apparently it does matter where a cell ages, as a team of bioinformaticians from the aging research cluster of excellence CECAD at the University of Cologne and the Cologne Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging have now shown. Using cells in the mouse liver, they examined which role the location of the cell in the organ plays during ageing.  The results of the study were published in Nature Aging under the title ‘Spatial and single-cell profiling of the metabolome, transcriptome and epigenome of the aging mouse liver’.

The location of the liver cells has a strong influence on the ageing process. In the region of the liver where the liver cells use oxygen for energy production in their mitochondria, this process deteriorated significantly with increasing age. In the central, oxygen-deprived area of the liver, however, the researchers found no change in the mitochondria, but a change in the cells' fat metabolism.

“It is important where cells age. They age differently depending on where they are located and what their function is,” said Peter Tessarz, research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing and leader of the study.“ For ageing research, this means that we have to pay close attention to which cells we are studying and where they are located in the organ.

The liver is largely made up of a single type of cell, the hepatocyte. Depending on where they are located in the liver, they have different roles. Near the portal vein, where fresh, oxygenated blood enters the liver, hepatocytes use the oxygen to process fats in their mitochondria and produce energy. In contrast, carbohydrates are broken down in the less oxygen-rich regions of the liver.

“In the liver, the position of the hepatocyte in the organ plays a crucial role. That's why the liver was the perfect model for us to investigate whether location also makes a difference in ageing,” explains Peter Tessarz.

The researchers analysed liver cells from young and old mice using cutting-edge technology that allowed them not only to obtain data for almost every single cell, but also to assign it to a position in the organ. They were particularly interested in which genes were still being read in old age, how the metabolism of the cells changed and whether epigenetic changes occurred. According to Achim Tresch, head of the Institute for Medical Statistics and Bioinformatics, whose bioinformatics group belongs to the CECAD, the work shows “that the bioinformatic combination of different types of data at the single-cell level produces new insights into metabolic processes.”



Media Contact:

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Institute of Medical Statistics and Computational Biology

CECAD – Cluster of Excellence Cellular Stress Responses in Aging-Associated Diseases

+49 221 478 96512  


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Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing, Cologne

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Verantwortlich: Dr. Elisabeth Hoffmann –