Biliary atresia revisited

Pediatr Dev Pathol. 2004 Mar-Apr;7(2):109-24. doi: 10.1007/s10024-003-0307-y. Epub 2004 Mar 4.


Extrahepatic biliary atresia (EHBA) is an inflammatory fibrosing process affecting the extrahepatic and intrahepatic biliary tree resulting in fibrous obliteration of the extrahepatic biliary tract, ductopenia of intrahepatic bile ducts, and biliary cirrhosis. EHBA is divided into a correctable and a noncorrectable type with focal patency of the otherwise atretic biliary tree in the former and no patency of the biliary tree in the noncorrectable type. EHBA is divided in a fetal, prenatal or embryonic, and a more common, perinatal, acquired form. The symptoms of the former start shortly after birth and there is frequently an association with a variety of congenital anomalies. Children with the perinatal form become jaundiced several weeks after birth; no associated congenital anomalies are present. Morphologically, an inflammatory and fibrosing process of the extrahepatic biliary tree leads to complete lumenal obliteration. The liver is characterized by a nonspecific giant cell transformation, and portal expansion by fibrous connective tissue with marked ductular proliferation. With time, ductopenia and biliary cirrhosis develop. The diffential diagnosis with other conditions with similar microscopic patterns such as as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, total parental nutrition, obstruction by a choledochal cyst, arteriohepatic dysplasia, familial progressive intrahepatic cholestasis, and alteration of the bile acid metabolism is discussed. In the fetal group, abnormalities in different genes seem to play a role; ductal plate malformation is another possibility. Different etiologies have been postulated in the perinatal form of EHBA: genetic susceptibility, vascular factors, toxins, and infections mainly by rotavirus and reovirus. The pathogenesis is complex. EHBA is a heterogenous disease, resulting from a combination of genetic factors, insults, and activation of different genetic and immunologic pathways. The treatment of EHBA is surgical, with anastomosis between the biliary tree and the intestine in the correctable type and a hepatic portoenterostomy (HPE) for the noncorrectable group. HPE is a temporizing treatment allowing the infant to develop and grow, followed in the majority of the patients by liver transplantation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bile Ducts, Intrahepatic / pathology
  • Biliary Atresia*
  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Pregnancy