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Gastroenterology. 1990 Aug;99(2):466-77.

Origin, pattern, and mechanism of bile duct proliferation following biliary obstruction in the rat.

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Department of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, City University of New York, New York.


Proliferation of bile duct-like structures is a hepatic cellular reaction observed in most forms of human liver disease and in a variety of experimental conditions associated with liver injury. Yet the origin, means of initiation, and significance of this hyperplasia are unknown. To clarify these issues we induced bile duct proliferation in rats by ligating the common bile duct and studied (a) hepatic incorporation of [3H]thymidine by histoautoradiography, (b) hepatic morphometry, (c) biliary tree volume using [3H]taurocholate as a marker of biliary transit time, (d) immunohistochemical expression of cytokeratin no. 19, (e) the effect of indomethacin, and (f) the role of increased biliary pressure, in the absence of physiological and biochemical evidence of cholestasis, on [3H]thymidine incorporation by the bile-duct cells. The results have demonstrated that (a) the proliferating bile duct-like cells are products of the extant biliary epithelium and retain its characteristics; (b) bile duct cells divide irrespective of the size of the duct in which they are located and form a system with a lumen continuous with the preexisting one; (c) bile duct proliferation results mainly in elongation, not in circumferential enlargement or sprouting of side branches; (d) portal macrophage infiltration does not play a role in the hyperplastic reaction, and (e) increased biliary pressure is the initiating factor in bile duct cell division. Our results provide evidence that under the present conditions, ductular metaplasia of hepatocytes does not occur and there is no functioning stem cell for biliary epithelial growth segregated in any particular duct size or within the portal connective tissue.

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