Pathophysiology of primary biliary cholangitis

Aliya F Gulamhusein, Gideon M Hirschfield
Best Practice & Research. Clinical Gastroenterology 2018, 34-35: 17-25
Primary biliary cholangitis is a prototypical autoimmune disease characterized by an overwhelming female predominance, a distinct clinical phenotype, and disease specific anti-mitochondrial antibodies targeted against a well-defined auto-antigen. In a genetically susceptible host, multi-lineage loss of tolerance to the E2 component of the 2-oxo-dehydrogenase pathway and dysregulated immune pathways directed at biliary epithelial cells leads to cholestasis, progressive biliary fibrosis, and cirrhosis in a subset of patients. Several key insights have shed light on the complex pathogenesis of disease. First, characteristic anti-mitochondrial antibodies (AMAs) target lipoic acid containing immunodominant epitopes, particularly pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC-E2), on the inner mitochondrial membrane of BECs. Next, breakdown of the protective apical bicarbonate rich umbrella may sensitize BECs to aberrant apoptotic pathways leaving the antigenic PDC-E2 epitope immunologically tact within an apoptotic bleb. A multi-lineage immune response ensues characterized by an imbalance between effector and regulatory activity resulting in progressive and self-perpetuating biliary injury. Genome wide studies shed light on important pathways involved in disease, key among them being IL-12. Epigenetic mechanisms and microRNAs may play help shed light on the missing heritability and female preponderance of disease. Taken together, these findings have dramatically advanced our understanding of disease and may lead to important therapeutic advances.

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