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Definition and pathology of primary sclerosing cholangitis.

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Second Department of Pathology, Kanazawa University School of Medicine, Kanazawa 920-8640, Japan.


Although primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is not a common disease, it is important in the differential diagnosis of hepatobiliary tract diseases in clinical practice. A diagnosis of PSC should be made only after the exclusion of similar diseases with well known etiologies or pathogeneses. In this review, the pathology of classical PSC and its variants or related diseases is highlighted. PSC is histologically characterized by progressive periductal fibrosis with luminal stenosis or obliteration, along with the formation of a fibrous core, as well as dilatation (cholangiectasis). Its etiology is unknown. Bacterial ascending cholangitis is superimposed on its long clinical course. Such a heterogeneous distribution of biliary lesions with biliary obliteration and cholangiectasis is responsible for the radiological demonstration of biliary abnormalities, particularly the beaded appearance. Sampling variability is common in needle or wedge biopsied specimens. As a result of biliary damage, the liver shows progressive cholestatic change followed by biliary fibrosis and cirrhosis, and this hepatic progression is divisible into four stages. There are several variants of PSC or related diseases, such as localized biliary sclerosis and stenosis, sclerosing cholangitis associated with inflammatory pseudotumor, and PSC-autoimmune hepatitis overlapping syndrome. Cholelithiasis, including secondary hepatolithiasis and, to a lesser degree, biliary carcinoma and dysplasia, are also known to develop at the perihilar bile ducts as a late complication of PSC.

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