Molecular and functional heterogeneity of cholangiocytes from rat liver after bile duct ligation

Gianfranco Alpini, Charles Ulrich, Stuart Roberts, John O. Phillips, Yoshiyuki Ueno, Prasad V. Podila, Oscar Colegio, Gene D. LeSage, Laurence J. Miller, Nicholas F. LaRusso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Cholangiocytes, the epithelial cells that line intrahepatic bile ducts, participate in bile secretion via basal and agonist-stimulated transport of solutes and water. On the basis of subtle structural differences between cholangiocytes lining small vs. large bile ducts, as well as known phenotypic variations among transporting epithelia in other organs, we demonstrated that cholangiocytes are functionally heterogeneous along the intrahepatic biliary tree of normal rats. In studies reported here, we confirm and extend the concept of functional heterogeneity of cholangiocytes by employing the bile duct-ligated (BDL) rat model of cholestasis associated with selective cholangiocyte proliferation. Using novel isolation and separatory techniques, we prepared subpopulations of pure small, medium, and large cholangiocytes from BDL rats and compared them with regard to gene expression and basal or agonist-responsive transport activities. Although transcripts for γ-glutamyl transpeptidase and cytokeratin 19, two cholangiocyte-specific proteins, and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase, a housekeeping gene, were in all three subpopulations, genes for several proteins involved in solute transport [Cl /HCO3 exchanger, cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR), and secretin receptor] were expressed only in medium and large cholangiocytes. Consistent with these findings, secretin increased intracellular levels of adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP) and 36Cl- efflux rates in medium and large cholangiocytes but not in small cholangiocytes. Also, forskolin/8-(4-chlorophenylthio)-cAMP stimulated 36Cl- efflux rates only in medium and large cholangiocytes, consistent with selective functional expression of CFTR in these subpopulations. These results support the molecular and functional heterogeneity of cholangiocytes within the intrahepatic biliary ductal system and are consistent with the notion that hormone-regulated transport of solutes after BDL occurs principally in medium and large cholangiocytes in a fashion similar to that observed in normal rat liver.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)G289-G297
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number2 35-2
StatePublished - Feb 1997


  • gene expression
  • second messenger system
  • transport biliary epithelia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)


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