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Eur J Pediatr Surg. 2001 Dec;11(6):382-90.

Induction of bile ducts in embryonic liver by mesenchyme: a new perspective for the treatment of biliary atresia?

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  • 1Department of Pediatric Surgery, Eberhard-Karls-University, Tübingen, Germany.


Presently only those forms of Extrahepatic Biliary Atresia (EHBA) with minimal or no intrahepatic manifestations can be treated successfully by extensive hepatoportoenterostomy. Intraoperative macro- and microscopic observations show that the typical pathogenetic manifestations in EHBA are most prominent at the porta hepatis. We therefore postulate that EHBA is the result of a defective embryonic development of the porta hepatis. In rat embryos hepatic bile duct formation is initiated at the porta hepatis and in this context mesenchyme from the periportal region seems to play a major inductive role. In order to demonstrate the role of invading periportal mesenchyme for the process of bile duct rudiment formation we established an organ culture model of the embryonic porta hepatis by recombining periportal mesenchyme with peripheral liver fragments from 15 days old rat embryos (Carnegie Stage 21). The degree of mesenchyme invasion as well as the formation of mesenchyme-surrounded liver cell clusters, rosettes or vesicles (bile duct rudiments) were assessed. Mesenchyme from the porta hepatis invaded the peripheral liver fragments and induced the formation of mesenchyme-surrounded liver cell clusters and rosettes with the beginning of lumen formation. Kidney mesenchyme recombined with liver fragments as a mesenchymal alternative showed almost the same effect, lung mesenchyme showed only a very weak inductive effect. To assess the effect of a diffusible factor versus direct cell contact, a millipore filter with and without paraffin coating was interposed between mesenchyme containing tissue and peripheral liver tissue fragments. Without direct cell contact to mesenchyme no hepatoblast cluster or rosette formation could be observed. Comparing this result to the normal development of the liver in rats our investigations suggest that the embryogenesis of the porta hepatis is probably defined by the following two developmental steps: First, differentiation of the intrahepatic bile duct system which is induced by invading mesenchyme originating from the extrahepatic periportal region and realized by epithelium mesenchyme interaction. Second, fusion of extra- and intrahepatic bile duct systems at the level of the later porta hepatis. Disturbances of this complex process can possibly lead to biliary atresia. Further investigations regarding details of the role of the mesenchyme, its inductive factors and the kidney mesenchyme's inductive potential in liver development may provide a new perspective for future treatment of biliary atresia.

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