Background/aims: Since the mechanisms leading to hepatocyte death in cholestasis are not well defined, we aimed to obtain closer insights into the related pathogenetic principles.
Methods: Cell death was assessed in common bile duct ligated (CBDL) and cholic acid (CA)-fed mice, and compared to Fas agonist Jo2-injected mice by studying H and E-stained tissue sections, DNA ladder analysis, caspase-3-like activity assay, immunohistochemistry, double immunofluorescence microscopy for activated caspase-3 and cytokeratin (CK) 18, the TUNEL method, and electron microscopy.
Results: Jo2-treated mice showed activation of caspase-3, breakdown of the CK intermediate filament network, and classical morphological features of apoptosis. In contrast, in CA-fed and CBDL mice, oncosis characterized by cell swelling and ruptured cell membranes was the predominant type of cell death, whereas in both experimental conditions significant activation of caspase-3 was absent and typical CK alterations were rare despite frequent positivity of the TUNEL assay.
Conclusions: (i) Oncosis represents the main type of hepatocyte death in acute cholestasis in mice. (ii) The importance of apoptosis in cholestasis may be overestimated if non-specific detection systems (e.g. TUNEL assay) are used.