Deletion of kif3a in CK19 positive cells leads to primary cilia loss, biliary cell proliferation and cystic liver lesions in TAA-treated mice

Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. 2022 Apr 1;1868(4):166335. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2021.166335. Epub 2021 Dec 30.


Background & aims: Loss of primary cilia in epithelial cells is known to cause cystic diseases of the liver and kidney. We have previously shown that during experimental and human cirrhosis that primary cilia were predominantly expressed on biliary cells in the ductular reaction. However, the role of primary cilia in the pathogenesis of the ductular reaction is not fully understood.

Methods: Primary cilia were specifically removed in biliary epithelial cells (BECs) by the administration of tamoxifen to Kif3af/f;CK19CreERT mice at week 2 of a 20-week course of TAA treatment. Biliary progenitor cells were isolated and grown as organoids from gallbladders. Cells and tissue were analysed using histology, immunohistochemistry and Western blot assays.

Results: At the end of 20 weeks TAA administration, primary cilia loss in liver BECs resulted in multiple microscopic cystic lesions within an unaltered ductular reaction. These were not seen in control mice who did not receive TAA. There was no effect of biliary primary cilia loss on the development of cirrhosis. Increased cellular proliferation was seen within the cystic structures associated with a decrease in hepatocyte lobular proliferation. Loss of primary cilia within biliary organoids was initially associated with reduced cell passage survival but this inhibitory effect was diminished in later passages. ERK but not WNT signalling was enhanced in primary cilia loss-induced cystic lesions in vivo and its inhibition reduced the expansion of primary cilia deficient biliary progenitor cells in vitro.

Conclusions: TAA-treated kif3a BEC-specific knockout mice had an unaltered progression to cirrhosis, but developed cystic lesions that showed increased proliferation.

Keywords: CK19; Cystic lesions; Knockout mice; Organoids; Primary cilia; Progenitor cells; kif3a.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biliary Tract / cytology
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cilia / metabolism
  • Cilia / pathology*
  • Cysts / chemically induced
  • Cysts / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism
  • Keratin-19 / genetics
  • Keratin-19 / metabolism
  • Kinesins / deficiency
  • Kinesins / genetics*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Diseases / pathology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Thioacetamide / toxicity


  • Keratin-19
  • Kif3a protein, mouse
  • Thioacetamide
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases
  • Kinesins

Supplementary concepts

  • Polycystic liver disease