Pyruvate dehydrogenase-E2, or a cross-reactive molecule, has been shown by a variety of immunohistochemical methods to be present in increased amounts in biliary epithelial cells (BEC) in primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC). In this study, to further understand the nature of the immunoreactive molecule in BEC, we examined the expression of pyruvate dehydrogenase complex-E2 (PDC-E2) messenger RNA (mRNA) and PDC-E2 protein in sections of livers from patients and controls to help identify the molecule found in BEC. We performed in situ hybridization using an antisense probe against the major epitope of PDC-E2. The data were very striking and suggested that there was no increased production of PDC-E2 in BEC. For example, in livers from patients with PBC, PDC-E2 mRNA was found in periportal hepatocytes in 16 of 17 cases (94%). In contrast, interlobular bile ducts and septal bile ducts had detectable levels of PDC-E2 mRNA in only 1 of 17 (6%) and 3 of 8 (38%) cases, respectively. Interestingly, proliferating bile ductules contained detectable levels of mRNA in 12 of 15 cases (80%). In control liver, periportal hepatocytes were positive in 15 of 17 cases (88%). Interlobular bile ducts, septal bile ducts, and proliferating bile ductules expressed mRNA signals in 4 of 17 (24%), 2 of 10 (20%), and 14 of 16 (88%), respectively. When formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded sections were examined by immunohistochemical staining with anti-PDC-E2 monoclonal antibody (mAb) C355.1, the interlobular bile ducts showed typical aberrant apical staining in all 10 PBC cases, but 0 of 9 liver controls. Periportal hepatocytes, proliferating bile ductules and infiltrating mononuclear cells stained with C355.1 but in a characteristic mitochondrial staining pattern. The presence of a PDC-E2-like molecule recognized by C355.1 is not reflected by the expression levels of PDC-E2 mRNA in the BEC of patients with PBC.