Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) is an autoimmune liver disease characterized by destruction of the intrahepatic bile ducts. It is generally believed that cellular immune mechanisms, particularly involving T cells, result in this bile duct damage. The relative strength of Th1 and Th2 responses has recently been proposed to be an important factor in the pathophysiology of various autoimmune diseases. In this study, we have attempted to identify the Th subset balance in PBC, by detection of cytokines specific to the two T-cell subsets, i.e., interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) for Th1 cells and interleukin-4 (IL-4) for Th2 cells. We analyzed IFN-gamma and IL-4 messenger RNA (mRNA) positive cells in liver sections from 18 patients with PBC and 35 disease controls including chronic active hepatitis C, extrahepatic biliary obstruction (EBO), and normal liver, using nonisotopic in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. Mononuclear cells expressing IFN-gamma and IL-4 mRNA were aggregated in inflamed portal tracts in PBC livers, but were rarely present in extrahepatic biliary obstruction, alcoholic fibrosis, or normal liver sections. The IFN-gamma and IL-4 mRNA positive cells in PBC livers were detected in significantly higher numbers than in control livers (P < .01). Moreover, IFN-gamma mRNA expression was more commonly detected than IL-4 expression in PBC livers, and the levels of IFN-gamma mRNA expression were highly correlated with the degree of portal inflammatory activity. IFN-gamma mRNA-positive cells were detected primarily around damaged bile ducts that were surrounded by lymphoid aggregates. The data indicate that Th1 cells are the more prominent T-cell subset in the lymphoid infiltrates in PBC.