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Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2017 Aug 1;313(2):G102-G116. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00452.2016. Epub 2017 May 19.

Emerging concepts in biliary repair and fibrosis.

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Department of Molecular Medicine, University of Padua School of Medicine, Padua, Italy;
Liver Center, Section of Digestive Diseases, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
International Center for Digestive Health, University of Milan-Bicocca School of Medicine, Milan, Italy; and.
Department of Medicine and Surgery, University of Milan-Bicocca School of Medicine, Milan, Italy.


Chronic diseases of the biliary tree (cholangiopathies) represent one of the major unmet needs in clinical hepatology and a significant knowledge gap in liver pathophysiology. The common theme in cholangiopathies is that the target of the disease is the biliary tree. After damage to the biliary epithelium, inflammatory changes stimulate a reparative response with proliferation of cholangiocytes and restoration of the biliary architecture, owing to the reactivation of a variety of morphogenetic signals. Chronic damage and inflammation will ultimately result in pathological repair with generation of biliary fibrosis and clinical progression of the disease. The hallmark of pathological biliary repair is the appearance of reactive ductular cells, a population of cholangiocyte-like epithelial cells of unclear and likely mixed origin that are able to orchestrate a complex process that involves a number of different cell types, under joint control of inflammatory and morphogenetic signals. Several questions remain open concerning the histogenesis of reactive ductular cells, their role in liver repair, their mechanism of activation, and the signals exchanged with the other cellular elements cooperating in the reparative process. This review contributes to the current debate by highlighting a number of new concepts derived from the study of the pathophysiology of chronic cholangiopathies, such as congenital hepatic fibrosis, biliary atresia, and Alagille syndrome.


cholangiopathies; ductular reaction; hepatic progenitor cells; macrophages; myofibroblasts

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