The pathogenesis of progressive bile duct loss in primary biliary cirrhosis remains unclear. In this study, the involvement of cellular senescence of biliary epithelial cells was examined in liver tissue samples from patients with primary biliary cirrhosis (n = 33), and compared with control diseased and normal livers (n = 83). In addition, cellular senescence was induced by oxidative stress in cultured mouse biliary epithelial cells. Biliary epithelial cells in small bile ducts in primary biliary cirrhosis, especially those in patients presenting with chronic non-suppurative cholangitis, frequently expressed senescence-associated β-galactosidase, and senescence-associated p16INK4 and p21WAF1/CIP. In contrast, senescence-associated markers were rarely expressed in small bile ducts in control livers. The infiltration of myeloperoxidase-positive inflammatory cells into biliary epithelial cell layers was closely associated with the cellular senescence of biliary epithelial cells in early-stage PBC. Cellular senescence of cultured mouse biliary epithelial cells was induced by treatment with H2O2 via the p38MAPK-dependent pathway and nitric oxide-augmented H2O2-induced cellular senescence. Oxidative stress- and nitric oxide-mediated cellular senescence may be involved in bile duct lesions, which are followed by progressive bile duct loss in primary biliary cirrhosis. Copyright © 2005 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.