Stem/progenitors for liver, biliary tree, and pancreas exist at early stages of development in the definitive ventral endoderm forming the foregut. In humans, they persist postnatally as part of a network, with evidence supporting their contributions to hepatic and pancreatic organogenesis throughout life. Multiple stem cell niches persist in specific anatomical locations within the human biliary tree and pancreatic ducts. In liver and pancreas, replication of mature parenchymal cells ensures the physiological turnover and the restoration of parenchyma after minor injuries. Although actively debated, multiple observations indicate that stem/progenitor cells contribute to repair pervasive, chronic injuries. The most primitive of the stem/progenitor cells, biliary tree stem cells, are found in peribiliary glands within extrahepatic and large intrahepatic bile ducts. Biliary tree stem cells are comprised of multiple subpopulations with traits suggestive of maturational lineage stages and yet capable of self-replication and multipotent differentiation, being able to differentiate to mature liver cells (hepatocytes, cholangiocytes) and mature pancreatic cells (including functional islet endocrine cells). Hepatic stem cells are located within canals of Hering and bile ductules and are capable of differentiating to hepatocyte and cholangiocyte lineages. The existence, phenotype, and anatomical location of stem/progenitors in the adult pancreas are actively debated. Ongoing studies suggest that pancreatic stem cells reside within the biliary tree, primarily the hepatopancreatic common duct, and are rare in the pancreas proper. Pancreatic ducts and pancreatic duct glands harbor committed pancreatic progenitors. Conclusion: The hepatic, biliary, and pancreatic network of stem/progenitor cell niches should be considered as a framework for understanding liver and pancreatic regeneration after extensive or chronic injuries and for the study of human chronic diseases affecting these organs. (Hepatology 2016;64:277-286).
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