Causes and consequences of ischemic-type biliary lesions after liver transplantation

J Hepatobiliary Pancreat Surg. 2006;13(6):517-24. doi: 10.1007/s00534-005-1080-2. Epub 2006 Nov 30.


Biliary complications are a major source of morbidity, graft loss, and even mortality after liver transplantation. The most troublesome are the so-called ischemic-type biliary lesions (ITBL), with an incidence varying between 5% and 15%. ITBL is a radiological diagnosis, characterized by intrahepatic strictures and dilatations on a cholangiogram, in the absence of hepatic artery thrombosis. Several risk factors for ITBL have been identified, strongly suggesting a multifactorial origin. The main categories of risk factors for ITBL include ischemia-related injury; immunologically induced injury; and cytotoxic injury, induced by bile salts. However, in many cases no specific risk factor can be identified. Ischemia-related injury comprises prolonged ischemic times and disturbance in blood flow through the peribiliary vascular plexus. Immunological injury is assumed to be a risk factor based on the relationship of ITBL with ABO incompatibility, polymorphism in genes coding for chemokines, and pre-existing immunologically mediated diseases such as primary sclerosing cholangitis and autoimmune hepatitis. The clinical presentation of patients with ITBL is often not specific; symptoms may include fever, abdominal complaints, and increased cholestasis on liver function tests. Diagnosis is made by imaging studies of the bile ducts. Treatment starts with relieving the symptoms of cholestasis and dilatation by endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreaticography (ERCP) or percutaneous transhepatic cholangiodrainage (PTCD), followed by stenting if possible. Eventually up to 50% of the patients with ITBL will require a retransplantation or may die. In selected patients, a retransplantation can be avoided or delayed by resection of the extra-hepatic bile ducts and construction of a hepaticojejunostomy. More research on the pathogenesis of ITBL is needed before more specific preventive or therapeutic strategies can be developed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bile Duct Diseases / diagnosis
  • Bile Duct Diseases / etiology*
  • Bile Duct Diseases / therapy
  • Bile Ducts / blood supply*
  • Humans
  • Ischemia / etiology*
  • Liver Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Risk Factors