Approach and results: Bile duct injury was induced by the administration of 3,5-diethoxycarbonyl-1,4-dihydrocollidine (DDC) diet for 14 days to Krt19Cre TdTomatoLSL mice. Human biliary tree stem/progenitor cells (BTSC) within PBGs were isolated from EHBT obtained from liver donors. Hepatic duct samples (n = 10) were obtained from patients affected by primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). Samples were analyzed by histology, immunohistochemistry, western blotting, and polymerase chain reaction. DDC administration causes hyperplasia of PBGs and periductal fibrosis in EHBT. A PBG cell population (Cytokeratin19- /SOX9+ ) is involved in the renewal of surface epithelium in injured EHBT. The Wnt signaling pathway triggers human BTSC proliferation in vitro and influences PBG hyperplasia in vivo in the DDC-mediated mouse biliary injury model. The Notch signaling pathway activation induces BTSC differentiation in vitro toward mature cholangiocytes and is associated with PBG activation in the DDC model. In human PSC, inflammatory and stromal cells trigger PBG activation through the up-regulation of the Wnt and Notch signaling pathways.
Conclusions: We demonstrated the involvement of PBG cells in regenerating the injured biliary epithelium and identified the signaling pathways driving BTSC activation. These results could have relevant implications on the pathophysiology and treatment of cholangiopathies.