Are infectious agents involved in primary biliary cirrhosis? A PCR approach

J Hepatol. 1999 Oct;31(4):664-71. doi: 10.1016/s0168-8278(99)80346-8.


Background/aims: A variety of data suggest that microbial infections and, in particular, atypical mycobacteria infections, may either initiate and/or be associated with the pathogenesis of primary biliary cirrhosis.

Methods: To address this hypothesis, use was made of polymerase chain reaction techniques and primers specific for the 16s rRNA gene of Eubacteria, Archaeabacteria, Mycobacteria and Helicobacter to determine if such sequences were detectable in liver tissue specimens from 29 patients with primary biliary cirrhosis. Similar liver tissues from patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis, chronic hepatitis, alcoholic liver disease and otherwise normal donors were analyzed in parallel. Genomic DNA was extracted from each of these liver tissue specimens using sterile techniques to avoid possible laboratory contamination. The DNA was subjected to polymerase chain reaction amplification using bacterial genus specific primers and the amplified products cloned and sequenced. Sequence data were analyzed by searching for homology to existing genes.

Results: Sequences from primary biliary cirrhosis and control livers corresponded to those found in a variety of bacteria, but no consensus sequence was found in primary biliary cirrhosis specimens. Neither Archaeabacteria nor Mycobacteria products were detected in liver specimens of patients with primary biliary cirrhosis, and Helicobacter pylori DNA was detected in only one primary biliary cirrhosis patient.

Conclusions: Although bacterial infection, particularly with intracellular organisms, has been suggested to play a role in the initiation of primary biliary cirrhosis, there is no evidence from this study to suggest an ongoing chronic infectious process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / genetics
  • Archaea / isolation & purification
  • Consensus Sequence
  • Eubacterium / classification
  • Eubacterium / genetics
  • Eubacterium / isolation & purification
  • Glyceraldehyde-3-Phosphate Dehydrogenases / genetics
  • Helicobacter / genetics
  • Helicobacter / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Liver / microbiology
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / genetics
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / microbiology*
  • Mycobacterium / genetics
  • Mycobacterium / isolation & purification
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reference Values


  • Glyceraldehyde-3-Phosphate Dehydrogenases