A novel approach to biliary tract pathology based on similarities to pancreatic counterparts: Is the biliary tract an incomplete pancreas?


Yasuni Nakanuma, MD, Department of Human Pathology, Kanazawa University Graduate School of Medicine, Kanazawa 920-8640, Japan. Email: pbcpsc@kenroku.kanazawa-u.ac.jp


There are peribiliary glands around the biliary tract, and these glands drain into the bile duct lumen. Interestingly, small amounts of pancreatic exocrine acini are intermingled with these glands. Experimental studies using animals suggest that the biliary tract shows some potential for pancreatic differentiation. It is noteworth that the biliary tract and pancreas have similar pathological features. IgG4-related sclerosing cholangitis and autoimmune pancreatitis are representative inflammatory diseases with similar features. Intraductal papillary neoplasms are found in the biliary tract and also in the pancreas: intraductal papillary neoplasm of the bile duct (IPNB) and intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm of the pancreas (IPMN). IPNB and IPMN share common histologic and phenotypic features and biological behaviors. Interestingly, mucinous cystic neoplasm (MCN) arises in both the pancreas and the heaptobiliary system. Intraductal tubular neoplasia is found in both the biliary tract and pancreas as well. Intraepithelial neoplasm is found in the biliary tract and pancreas: biliary intraepithelial neoplasm (BilIN) and pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasm (PanIN). BilIN and PanIN are followed by conventional invasive adenocarcinoma, while IPNB and IPMN are followed by tubular adenocarcinoma and mucinous carcinoma in both organs. Further study of the biliary tract's pathophysiology based on its similarity to pancreatic counterparts is warranted.