Abstract:Background: Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) is characterised by intra-hepatic immune-mediated cholangiopathy (non-suppurative destructive cholangitis (NSDC)). Although auto-reactive immune responses against pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC) have been characterised in PBC, the lack of an animal model of the disease has limited study of the mechanisms of disease induction and the development of novel approaches to therapy. Aims: To develop and validate a mouse model of immune-mediated cholangiopathy relevant for future use in the study of the aetio-pathogenesis and therapy of PBC. Methods: Female SJL/J, C57BL/6, NOD and BALB/c mice were sensitised with PDC, its purified E2/E3BP component, and a PDC-E2 derived peptide p163 (a dominant T-cell epitope in humans) in complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA). Morphological changes were assessed under light microscopy by a hepatic histopathologist blinded to the experimental details. Antibody responses to PDC were studied by ELISA and PDC inhibition assay. Results: An initial series of experiments was performed to survey the susceptibility of female mice of a range of strains to the induction of NSDC by i.p. sensitisation with PDC, PDC-E2/E3BP or p163 in CFA. Although each animal showed a specific antibody response following sensitisation, it was found that NSDC development (assessed at 30 weeks post-sensitisation) was restricted to SJL/J mice following sensitisation with any of the mitochondrial antigen preparations. A subsequent series of experiments was performed to examine the specificity and aetiology of this disease. Significant bile duct lesions were only seen in SJL/J animals following sensitisation with CFA containing PDC, and were absent from CFA only and un-sensitised controls. Kinetic analysis revealed that this pathology developed slowly, but a high incidence of animals with severe lesions was observed after 30 weeks. Conclusions: We have described a model of experimental autoimmune cholangitis (EAC) with immunological (anti-PDC antibodies) and histological (immune-mediated cholangiopathy) features suggestive of PBC. This model may be useful in further defining the role of self-tolerance breakdown in the development of this condition.