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, 28 Suppl 1 (0 1), 26-32

Vascular Biology of the Biliary Epithelium


Vascular Biology of the Biliary Epithelium

Carola M Morell et al. J Gastroenterol Hepatol.


Cholangiocytes are involved in a variety of processes essential for liver pathophysiology. To meet their demanding metabolic and functional needs, bile ducts are nourished by their own arterial supply, the peribiliary plexus. This capillary network originates from the hepatic artery and is strictly arranged around the intrahepatic bile ducts. Biliary and vascular structures are linked by a close anatomic and functional association necessary for liver development, normal organ physiology, and liver repair. This strong association is finely regulated by a range of angiogenic signals, enabling the cross talk between cholangiocytes and the different vascular cell types. This review will briefly illustrate the "vascular" properties of cholangiocytes, their underlying molecular mechanisms and the relevant pathophysiological settings.

Keywords: PDGF; VEGF; cholangiocytes; cholangiopathies; peribiliary plexus.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of interest: the authors have nothing to disclose.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Association between biliary and vascular cells in the liver
The intimate anatomic and functional association between bile ducts and PBP is finely regulated by a variety of signaling pathways – including angiogenic factors. Changes in the biliary tree architecture are closely linked to vascular proliferation in various pathophysiological settings. During development, hepatic artery branches are formed in close proximity to the nascent ductal plates; following a cholestatic damage, ductular reaction is characterized by cholangiocytes proliferation, along with a massive adaptive vascular response; angiogenic factors play a major role in neoplastic cholangiopathies such as CCA for the generation of the tumor reactive stroma; congenital cystic cholangiopathies are characterized by a rich vascularization, necessary to support abnormal growth of the cystic epithelium.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Immunohistochemical expression of VEGFR-2 in liver development and disease
As bile ducts develop, ductal plate cells transiently express VEGFR-2 (A), until a lumen is formed and the nascent bile duct progressively migrates into the portal space (B). Reactive cholangiocytes display a de novo expression of VEGFR-2 during ductular reaction, as shown in samples of biliary atresia (C) and ALD (D), as well as neoplastic bile ducts (E – CCA). In polycystic liver diseases (F – Caroli disease) the cystic epithelium shows a marked upregulation of VEGFR-2 which, along with other angiogenic signals, is responsible for cysts enlargement. (200x magnification).

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