Primary sclerosing cholangitis leads to dysfunction and loss of MAIT cells

Eur J Immunol. 2018 Dec;48(12):1997-2004. doi: 10.1002/eji.201847608. Epub 2018 Oct 9.


Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is a severe chronic liver disease of the small and large bile ducts. The pathogenesis is unknown but a strong immune cell component has been suggested. Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are abundant in human liver and localize around bile ducts. Yet, the role of MAIT cells in PSC remains unclear. Here, we performed a detailed characterization of MAIT cells in circulation and assessed their presence in bile ducts of PSC patients as well as non-PSC controls. We observed a dramatic reduction in MAIT cell levels in PSC patients. High-dimensional phenotypical analysis using stochastic neighbor embedding revealed the MAIT cells to be activated, a phenotype shared by the investigated disease control groups. In line with the noted phenotypic alterations, MAIT cell function was reduced in response to Escherichia coli and to cytokine stimulation in PSC patients as compared to healthy controls. Using a novel sampling approach of human bile ducts, we found MAIT cells to be specifically enriched within bile ducts. Finally, distinct from the dramatic decline observed in circulation, PSC-patients had retained levels of MAIT cells within bile ducts. Altogether, our results provide a detailed insight into how the human MAIT cell compartment is affected in PSC.

Keywords: Gut-liver axis; Inflammation; Inflammatory bowel disease; Mucosal-associated invariant T cells; Primary sclerosing cholangitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bile Ducts / immunology*
  • Blood Circulation / immunology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cholangitis, Sclerosing / immunology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / physiology*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / immunology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucosal-Associated Invariant T Cells / immunology*


  • Cytokines