Bile ducts and ductules were traced by means of computerized three-dimensional reconstruction in seven patients with primary biliary cirrhosis, three of them in the early asymptomatic stage and four of them with late disease. A patient with cryptogenic cirrhosis was also studied. Loss of bile ducts was confirmed, and was greater in the late stages as expected. Reconstruction demonstrated amputation of bile ducts of various sizes ranging from less than 40 μm to more than 80 μm in external diameter. Amputation was sometimes seen in relation to granuloma formation. The main or side branches of ducts could be traced to zones of proliferated ductules which, in turn, often communicated with liver-cell plates. Clusters of atypical ductules could be seen to communicate with liver-cell plates but not with ductules and ducts.
We concluded that proliferation of ‘typical’ ductules with well-defined lumens, characteristically seen in primary biliary cirrhosis, probably represents a means whereby bile continues to be drained from the liver in spite of interruption of ducts. Computerized three-dimensional reconstruction proved to be a rapid and accurate way of accumulating the necessary data.