Colchicine for primary biliary cirrhosis

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(2):CD004481. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004481.pub2.


Background: Colchicine has been used for patients with primary biliary cirrhosis because of its immunomodulatory and antifibrotic potential. The therapeutical responses to colchicine in randomised clinical trials were inconsistent.

Objectives: To evaluate the beneficial and harmful effects of colchicine in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis.

Search strategy: We identified trials through electronic searches of The Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register, The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials on The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE (September 2003), and manual searches of bibliographies. We contacted authors of trials and pharmaceutical companies.

Selection criteria: Randomised clinical trials comparing colchicine with any kind of control therapy were included irrespective of language, year of publication, and publication status.

Data collection and analysis: The primary outcomes were the number of deaths and the number of death and/or patients who underwent liver transplantation. Dichotomous outcomes were reported as relative risk (RR) with 95% confidence interval (CI). We examined intervention effects by using both a fixed effect model and a random effects model. Heterogeneity was investigated by subgroup analyses and sensitivity analyses.

Main results: Eleven randomised clinical trials involving 716 patients with primary biliary cirrhosis fulfilled the inclusion criteria. No significant differences were detected between colchicine and placebo/no intervention on the number of deaths (RR 1.21, 95% CI 0.71 to 2.06), the number of deaths and/or patients who underwent liver transplantation (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.67 to 1.49), liver complications, liver biochemical variables, liver histological measurements, and adverse events. Trial methodology was generally low and some trials had high drop-out rate. A best-worst-case-scenario analysis showed no significant effect of colchicine on mortality (RR 0.59, 95%CI 0.30 to 1.15), while a worst-best-case-scenario analysis showed a significant detrimental effect of colchicine on mortality (RR 2.28, 95% CI 1.17 to 4.44). Colchicine significantly decreased the number of patients without improvement of pruritus (RR 0.75, 95% CI 0.65 to 0.87). However, this estimate was based on only 156 patients from three trials. The effect of the combined treatment with ursodeoxycholic acid was not significantly different from that of colchicine alone.

Reviewers' conclusions: We did not find evidence either to support or refute the use of colchicine for patients with primary biliary cirrhosis. As we are not able to exclude a detrimental effect of colchicine, we suggest that it is only used in randomised clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cholagogues and Choleretics / therapeutic use*
  • Colchicine / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / drug therapy*
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / mortality
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Methotrexate / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Ursodeoxycholic Acid / therapeutic use


  • Cholagogues and Choleretics
  • Ursodeoxycholic Acid
  • Colchicine
  • Methotrexate