A novel model of injured liver ductal organoids to investigate cholangiocyte apoptosis with relevance to biliary atresia

Pediatr Surg Int. 2020 Dec;36(12):1471-1479. doi: 10.1007/s00383-020-04765-2. Epub 2020 Oct 21.


Purpose: The fibrogenic process in cholangiopathic diseases such as biliary atresia (BA) involves bile duct injury and apoptosis of cholangiocytes, which leads to the progression of liver fibrosis into liver cirrhosis and can result in end-staged liver disease. Recent advances in the development of organoids or mini-organ structures have allowed us to create an ex vivo injury model of the bile duct that mimics bile duct injury in BA. The aim of this experimental study was to develop a novel model of injured intrahepatic cholangiocytes as this can be relevant to BA. Our new model is important for studying the pathophysiological response of bile ducts to injury and the role of cholangiocytes in initiating the fibrogenic cascade. In addition, it has the potential to be used as a tool for developing new treatment strategies for BA.

Methods: Liver ductal organoids were generated from the liver of healthy neonatal mouse pups. Intrahepatic bile duct fragments were isolated and cultured in Matrigel dome. Injury was induced in the organoids by administration of acetaminophen in culture medium. The organoids were then evaluated for fibrogenic cytokines expression, cell apoptosis marker and cell proliferation marker.

Results: Organoids generated from intrahepatic bile duct fragments organized themselves into single-layer epithelial spheroids with lumen on the inside mimicking in vivo bile ducts. After 24-h exposure to acetaminophen, cholangiocytes in the organoids responded to the injury by increasing expression of fibrogenic cytokines, transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGF-β1) and platelet-derived growth factor-BB (PDGF-BB). This fibrogenic response of injured organoids was associated with increased cholangiocyte apoptosis and decreased cholangiocyte proliferation.

Conclusion: To our knowledge this is the first description of cholangiocyte injury in the organoids derived from intrahepatic bile ducts. Our injury model demonstrated that cholangiocyte apoptosis and its fibrogenic response may play a role in initiation of the fibrogenic process in cholangiopathic diseases such as BA. These findings are important for the development of novel therapy to reduce cholangiocyte apoptosis and to halt the early fibrogenic cascade in liver fibrogenesis. This novel injury model can prove very valuable for future research in biliary atresia.

Keywords: Bile duct injury; Cell apoptosis; Fibrogenic cytokine; Organoid.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Apoptosis*
  • Bile Ducts / pathology
  • Biliary Atresia / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Organoids / pathology*