Cholangiocyte cilia are abnormal in syndromic and non-syndromic biliary atresia

Mod Pathol. 2012 May;25(5):751-7. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2011.212. Epub 2012 Feb 3.


Biliary atresia (BA) is a neonatal disorder characterized by aggressive fibroinflammatory obliteration of the biliary tract. Approximately 20 percent of BA patients demonstrate left-right laterality defects (syndromic BA). Cilia participate in important physiological functions in cholangiocytes, and as some ciliopathies have been associated with both laterality defects and hepatic fibrosis, we hypothesized that patients with syndromic BA exhibit abnormalities of cholangiocyte cilia that disrupt cholangiocyte homeostasis. Nine BA specimens were studied, including pre-Kasai diagnostic biopsies (n=7) and liver explants (n=2). Five specimens were from patients with laterality defects. These were compared with normal pediatric livers, as well as livers affected by primary sclerosing cholangitis, Wilson's disease, and cardiac cirrhosis. Biopsy sections were stained with antibodies against keratin 19 (a cholangiocyte marker) and acetylated α-tubulin (a cilia marker) and were visualized by confocal microscopy. Computer-assisted relative quantification was used to compare staining of cilia within bile ducts among samples. Surprisingly, cilia in BA specimens were significantly shorter, abnormal in their orientation, and less abundant compared with normal liver and disease controls regardless of the presence of a laterality defect. There are significant abnormalities of cholangiocyte cilia in both syndromic and non-syndromic BA livers compared with normal livers and livers affected by other cholestatic diseases. Although this may result from severe cholestasis or inflammation, it may also reflect common mechanistic pathways in different forms of BA and may have important implications for understanding the progression of the disease.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bile Ducts / metabolism
  • Bile Ducts / pathology*
  • Biliary Atresia / metabolism
  • Biliary Atresia / pathology*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cholangitis, Sclerosing / metabolism
  • Cholangitis, Sclerosing / pathology
  • Cilia / pathology*
  • Female
  • Fibrosis / metabolism
  • Fibrosis / pathology
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / metabolism
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / pathology
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration / metabolism
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration / pathology
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Syndrome


  • Biomarkers