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Abstract

Studies to determine the role of preformed antibodies to biliary epithelial cells (BECs) in liver transplant rejections have been initiated. However, the clinical importance of these antibodies in the posttransplantation period still remains to be elucidated. Reactivity to BECs isolated from a normal healthy liver was investigated in sera of 56 patients before and after liver transplantation (LTX) using flow cytometry. Functional capacity of BEC antibodies was determined by the ability to induce expression of Toll-like receptors (TLRs) on BECs. Cytokine and chemokine production induced by BEC antibodies was determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. In all, 7 patients (13%) had BEC antibodies only pre-LTX, 14 (25%) only after LTX, 18 (32%) both before and after LTX, and 17 (30%) had no detectable antibodies. Presence of preformed BEC antibodies correlated with acute rejections (P < 0.03). Deposition of immunoglobulins in bile ducts was detected in biopsies of patients during rejections. Significantly higher numbers of patients with post-LTX antibodies (9 of 32) developed cholangitis, compared with 0 of 17 without antibodies (P < 0.02). Specificity studies indicated that these antibodies were both non–HLA- and HLA-specific. Normal BECs expressed mRNA but not the proteins for the TLRs. However, treatment with F(ab′)2 fragments of BEC antibodies induced protein expression of TLRs 2 and 3 and significantly high production of interleukin (IL)-6, monocyte chemoattractant protein (MCP)-1, macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-1α, epithelial neutrophil activating peptide (ENA)-78, and IL-8. In conclusion, BEC antibodies via induction of TLR2 and TLR3 expression, as well as inflammatory cytokine and chemokine production may induce epithelial cell inflammatory responses to bacterial components and contribute to posttransplantation cholangitis. (Liver Transpl 2005;11:911–921.)