Background/aims: Biliary epithelial cells are targets of immune-mediated attack in conditions such as primary biliary cirrhosis and allograft rejection. This has been attributed to the ability of biliary epithelial cells to express ligands for T cell receptors. We aimed to investigate the expression of immune recognition elements and the effects of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines on cell surface phenotypes of normal human biliary epithelial cells and established human liver-derived (PLC/PRF/5, HepG2, Hep3B and CC-SW) lines.
Methods: Cells were cultured in the presence or absence of cytokines for 72 h, and expression of cell surface molecules was assessed by flow cytometry and immunofluorescence.
Results: All cell lines expressed MHC class I, ICAM-1 (CD54), LFA-3 (CD58) and EGF receptor, and all but Hep3B expressed Fas/Apo-1 (CD95). Unlike hepatocyte-derived cell lines, biliary epithelial cells and CC-SW expressed CD40 and CD44. As expected, IFNgamma and TNFalpha upregulated expression of ICAM-1, MHC class I and MHC class II, particularly in biliary epithelial cells. TGFbeta downregulated these molecules and downregulated CD95 on biliary epithelial cells, but upregulated LFA-3. The Th2 cytokines had little effect, although IL-4 upregulated CD95 expression on biliary epithelial cells. IFNgamma upregulated CD40 expression on biliary epithelial cells, CC-SW and HepG2.
Conclusions: These findings imply that biliary epithelial cells may be capable of interacting with activated T lymphocytes via CD40 and LFA-3, which are thought to be important T cell accessory ligands for T cell activation in a B7-independent manner. Sensitivity to pro-inflammatory cytokines and expression of CD95 may explain why biliary epithelial cells are primary targets for autoimmune attack.