The expression of HLA class I (HLA-A, B, C) and class II (HLA-DR) antigens on the biliary epithelium of 10 patients (nine men) with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) was investigated using an immunoperoxidase technique on cryostat sections. Five patients were staged as grade II and five grade III on hepatic histology. None were cirrhotic. as grade II and five grade III on hepatic histology. None were cirrhotic. Controls were nine patients with primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), five with extra hepatic biliary obstruction, 15 with other forms of chronic liver disease and six with normal livers. Bile ducts from the normal subjects and patients with chronic liver disease did not express HLA-DR antigens. In contrast, all 10 of the PSC biopsies showed varying degrees of HLA-DR staining of the biliary epithelium. Expression of DR antigens was also found on the bile ducts of all five patients with extra hepatic biliary obstruction and in six of nine patients with PBC. Expression of HLA class I antigens was seen on the biliary epithelium of all the biopsies examined. Increased numbers of helper and suppressor T-cells were seen in the portal tracts of all the PSC patients. This study has confirmed that aberrant expression of HLA-DR may occur on the biliary epithelium of some, but not all, patients with PBC. In addition, the study has shown that aberrant expression of HLA-DR always occurs in PCS at an early stage of histological liver damage. While this may be important in the pathogenesis of PSC, the aberrant expression in extra hepatic biliary obstruction suggests that it may be a secondary phenomenon.
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