The availability of recombinant autoantigens allows the experimental study of the relationships between primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) and mitochondrial antigens. We took advantage of these recombinant autoantigens and attempted to induce autoimmune cholangitis by immunizing neonatally thymectomized (NTx) lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-treated A/J mice, known to be prone to organ-specific autoimmune diseases. We employed a recombinant protein containing a dual-headed molecule that coexpresses the immunodominant epitope of the E2 subunits of the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex and the branched-chain keto-acid dehydrogenase complex. We report herein that an immune-mediated cholangiohepatitis was induced by such immunization and the concurrent injection of LPS into NTx mice. The incidence of cholangitis was 79% in the NTx, immunized, LPS group compared to 14% in the NTx, nonimmunized, LPS group. The histopathology ranged from mild to severe and included bile duct damage, focal hepatic necrosis, and endotheliitis, but no granulomas. Moreover, almost all such lesions persisted for 12 weeks after the discontinuation of immunization and LPS injections in the NTx mice. Interestingly, we were successful (89%) in transferring the cholangiohepatitis by injection of liver infiltrating mononuclear cells from the NTx, immunized, LPS mice into congenic nonimmunized NTx mice; such lesions could not be transferred with spleen cells. Although the pathology is not typical of PBC, this model offers a unique venue for the study of immune-mediated hepatobiliary injury.
Copyright 1998 Academic Press.