Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) are chronic autoimmune-mediated diseases of the biliary tree, resulting in a loss of bile ducts. There are morphological features that clearly distinguish them from each other: in PBC, there is overt destruction of the bile ducts with disruption of the basement membrane; in PSC there is abundant periductular fibrosis with shrinkage and subsequent loss of the bile ducts. In order to see if the disparate histopathology is paralleled by different immunohistology we looked at a panel of epitopes on bile duct epithelia especially to see if biliary epithelial cells may present as targets for cell mediated immune response. In PBC bile duct epithelial cells mostly expressed CD58 (lymphocyte function-associated antigen 3), CD80 (B7 BB1), and CD95 (Fas). In PSC, however, these epitopes were only expressed in a few examples to a lower degree. The respective effector T lymphocytes were positive for CD2 and CD28. Subtyping of the lymphocytes in the liver tissue further showed a predominance of CD4 positive T cells over CD8 cells up to 2-to-1 in both diseases. Determination of lymphocytes by cytokines to Th1 or Th2 subtype showed a majority of Th1 lymphocytes in PBC and PSC. We conclude that in PBC bile duct epithelial cells may display features of target cells of a T cell-mediated immune reaction with the Th1 cells predominating. In PSC other mechanisms of bile duct loss may play a role, since in this disease the majority of cells lack essential epitopes that constitute targets of cell mediated immunity.