Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) is associated with serum antibodies that react with the dihydrolipoamide acetyltransferase component (E2) of the mitochondrial pyruvate dehydrogenase complex. We have sought the presence of E2 on the surface of human intrahepatic biliary epithelial cells (BEC). Cultured BECs from PBC but not normal liver were found to have E2 on the membrane after three days' culture. Isolated, viable cells examined by laser-scanning confocal microscopy revealed the pattern of E2 staining on the membrane to be similar to that seen with the membrane glycoprotein marker, HEA-125. By contrast, BECs from normal liver showed membrane staining only with HEA-125. When BECs were fixed before incubation with antibody to E2, cytoplasmic staining was observed. Our results suggest that E2 is present on the surface of biliary epithelial cells in PBC, and support the idea of a pathogenetic association between antimitochondrial antibodies and bileduct damage.