Solving the primary biliary cirrhosis puzzle: The emerging image of immunopathology in primary biliary cirrhosis

Ruth Y. Lan, Patrick Leung, Aftab A. Ansari, Ross L. Coppel, M. Eric Gershwin

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2 Citations (Scopus)


The role of adaptive as well as innate immune responses in the pathology of primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) has been a major subject of investigation. Primary biliary cirrhosis is an autoimmune liver disease involving the destruction of small bile ducts, which eventually leads to liver cirrhosis. Adaptive immune responses involving autoantibody production by B cells and autoreactive T cells have been labeled as the most probable mediators of tissue destruction. Autoantibody production against mitochondrial antigens is used as a key diagnostic marker in PBC, being present in 90-95% of patient sera. Besides blood, these antimitochondrial antibodies are found in liver, bile, saliva, and urine of patients and target mitochondrial autoantigens that are well conserved between species. One possible mechanism of antibody-mediated tissue destruction is via the transcytosis of immunoglobulin A antimitochondrial antibodies through biliary epithelium. Another mechanism may involve the recognition by antimitochondrial antibodies of the mitochondrial autoantigens abnormally expressed on patient biliary epithelium. The second component of the adaptive immune response in PBC involves T cells, which comprise a large fraction of infiltrating leukocytes in diseased livers. Autoreactive CD4+ and CD8+ T cells recognizing mitochondrial antigens targeted by antimitochondrial antibodies have been isolated with specificity for epitopes that overlap with those of B cells. Cytokines production of such infiltrates indicates the involvement of both TH1 and TH2 responses in the diseased tissue. Besides adaptive responses, innate immunity effector mechanisms involving eosinophils, macrophages, and B cells hyperresponsive to bacterial DNA CpG motifs has been implicated in the pathology of PBC. Despite research efforts, the etiology of PBC still remains elusive, although theories involving the participation of genetic factors, molecular mimicry due to microorganisms, and a role for modification of native autoantigens by xenobiotics have been proposed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-284
Number of pages14
JournalClinical and Applied Immunology Reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2005


  • Autoantigen
  • Autoimmunity
  • Eosinophils
  • Epitope
  • Granulomas
  • Macrophages
  • Molecular mimicry
  • PDC-E2
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis

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