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Abstract

Cholangiocytes contribute significantly to bile formation through the vectorial secretion of water and electrolytes and are a focal site of injury in a number of diseases including liver ischemia and post-transplantation liver failure. Using ischemia in intact liver and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) depletion in cultured cells to model cholangiocyte injury, these studies examined the effects of metabolic inhibition on cholangiocyte viability and structure. During 120 minutes of ischemia or ATP depletion, cell viability and tight junctional integrity in cholangiocytes were maintained. However, both the in vivo and in vitro models displayed striking alterations in the secondary structure of the plasma membrane. After 120 minutes, the basolateral (BL) interdigitations were diminished and the apical (Ap) microvilli were significantly decreased in number. The BL and Ap membrane surface areas decreased by 42 ± 8% and 63 ± 2%, respectively. Despite these changes, F-actin remained predominantly localized to the membrane domains. In contrast, in a time course that paralleled the loss of microvilli, the actin-membrane linking protein ezrin progressively dissociated from the cytoskeleton. These studies indicate that cholangiocyte ATP depletion induces characteristic, domain-specific changes in the plasma membrane and implicate alterations in the membrane-cytoskeletal interactions in the initiation of the changes. Pending the re-establishment of the differentiated domains, the loss of specific secondary structures may contribute to impaired vectorial bile duct secretion and postischemic cholestasis.