Cholestasis is a common complication in liver diseases that triggers a proliferative response of the biliary tree. Bile duct ligation (BDL) is a frequently used model of cholestasis in rodents. To determine which changes occur in the three-dimensional (3D) architecture of the interlobular bile duct during cholestasis, we used 3D confocal imaging, surface reconstructions, and automated image quantification covering a period up to 28 days after BDL. We show a highly reproducible sequence of interlobular duct remodeling, where cholangiocyte proliferation initially causes corrugation of the luminal duct surface, leading to an approximately five-fold increase in surface area. This is analogous to the function of villi in the intestine or sulci in the brain, where an expansion of area is achieved within a restricted volume. The increase in surface area is further enhanced by duct branching, branch elongation, and loop formation through self-joining, whereby an initially relatively sparse mesh surrounding the portal vein becomes five-fold denser through elongation, corrugation, and ramification. The number of connections between the bile duct and the lobular bile canalicular network by the canals of Hering decreases proportionally to the increase in bile duct length, suggesting that no novel connections are established. The diameter of the interlobular bile duct remains constant after BDL, a response that is qualitatively distinct from that of large bile ducts, which tend to enlarge their diameters. Therefore, volume enhancement is only due to net elongation of the ducts. Because curvature and tortuosity of the bile duct are unaltered, this enlargement of the biliary tree is caused by branching and not by convolution.
Conclusion: BDL causes adaptive remodeling that aims at optimizing the intraluminal surface area by way of corrugation and branching.
© 2015 The Authors. Hepatology published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., on behalf of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.