Acute carbon tetrachloride feeding selectively damages large, but not small, cholangiocytes from normal rat liver.
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The aim of this study was to develop a model of selective duct damage restricted to hormone-responsive segments corresponding to the ducts damaged in primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC). Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) was fed by gavage to rats, and 2, 7, 14, and 28 days later, small and large cholangiocytes were isolated. Apoptosis was determined in situ by morphology and in purified cholangiocytes by assessment of nuclear fragmentation by 4, 6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI) staining. Cholangiocyte proliferation was evaluated in situ by morphometry of liver sections stained for cytokeratin-19 (CK-19) and by proliferating cellular nuclear antigen (PCNA) staining in liver sections and in purified cholangiocytes by PCNA gene expression. Ductal secretion was assessed by measurement of secretin receptor (SR) gene expression and secretin-induced cyclic adenosine 3',5'-monophosphate (cAMP) synthesis and secretin-induced choleresis. Two days after CCl4 administration, there was an increased number of small ducts, but a reduction of large ducts. Apoptosis, observed only in large ducts, was associated with decreased DNA synthesis and ductal secretion. Conversely, small cholangiocytes expressed de novo the SR gene and secretin-stimulated cAMP synthesis 2 days after CCl4 treatment. Proliferation of large cholangiocytes was delayed until 7 days, which was associated with a transient increase in ductal secretion in vivo. CCl4 effects on cholangiocytes were reversed by day 28. CCl4 treatment causes a decrease in large duct mass as a result of a higher rate of apoptosis and absence of initial proliferation in large cholangiocytes. These processes were concomitant with a decrease of ductal secretion in large cholangiocytes. Small cholangiocytes appear resistant to CCl4-induced apoptosis, and proliferate and transiently compensate for loss of proliferative and secretory activity of large cholangiocytes.