The pathogenesis of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) remains poorly understood. Since PSC predominantly occurs in patients with inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmunity triggered by activated T cells migrating from the gut to the liver is a possible mechanism. We hypothesized that T cells primed in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) by a specific antigen migrate to the liver and cause cholangitis when they recognize the same antigen on cholangiocytes. We induced ovalbumin-dependent colitis in mice that express ovalbumin in biliary epithelia (ASBT-OVA mice) and crossed ASBT-OVA mice with mice that express ovalbumin in enterocytes (iFABP-OVA mice). We analyzed T-cell activation in the GALT and crossreactivity to the same antigen in the liver as well as the effects of colitis per se on antigen-presentation and T-cell activation in the liver. Intrarectal application of ovalbumin followed by transfer of CD8 OT-I T cells led to antigen-dependent colitis. CD8 T cells primed in the GALT acquired effector function and the capability to migrate to the liver, where they caused cholangitis in a strictly antigen-dependent manner. Likewise, cholangitis developed in mice expressing ovalbumin simultaneously in biliary epithelia and enterocytes after transfer of OT-I T cells. Dextran sodium sulfate colitis led to increased levels of inflammatory cytokines in the portal venous blood, induced activation of resident liver dendritic cells, and promoted the induction of T-cell-dependent cholangitis.
Conclusion: Our data strengthen the notion that immune-mediated cholangitis is caused by T cells primed in the GALT and provide the first link between colitis and cholangitis in an antigen-dependent mouse model.
© 2013 by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.