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The role of Notch receptor expression in bile duct development and disease



Mutations in the Jagged1 gene, a ligand for the Notch signalling pathway, have been implicated in the pathogenesis of Alagille syndrome (AGS), resulting in bile duct paucity. Recently, a mouse model for AGS suggested that abnormalities of the Notch2 receptor, as well as of Jagged1, may be present. Expression patterns of Notch receptors have not been described in the developing human liver or in paediatric liver. The expression of Notch receptors and ligands was examined in fetal, paediatric normal, and diseased human liver by RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry. RT-PCR showed Notch1–4 mRNA expression to be present. In fetal liver, Notch3 protein was expressed on mesenchymal cells, closely adjacent to ductal plate cells that expressed Jagged1. In paediatric normal liver, Notch1 and Notch2 were present on mature bile duct cells. Notch expression was altered in disease, with distinct differences in AGS from extrahepatic biliary atresia (EHBA) and α1-anti-trypsin deficiency (α1AT). In AGS, where extensive ductular reaction was present, Jagged1 was expressed on ductular reactive cells (DRCs), along with marked Notch2 and Notch3 staining. Where there was ductular paucity, Notch2 and Notch3 were not expressed on remaining biliary epithelial cells. In EHBA and α1AT, Notch receptor expression was not seen on DRCs. Instead, Notch2 and Notch3 were expressed by stromal cells. In all diseases, Notch3 was expressed on neovessels in portal tracts and cirrhotic fibrous septa. In conclusion, Notch3 is expressed in close proximity to Jagged1 at the time of ductal plate formation, suggesting that Notch3 is important for bile duct development. The expression of both Notch2 and Notch3 in AGS on DRCs confirms that these receptors may be important in the pathogenesis of this disease. Further studies are required to investigate the presence of Notch2 and Notch3 at other periods in liver development and to clarify the role of Notch signalling in paediatric cholestases. Copyright © 2004 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.