Biliary atresia

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Extrahepatic Biliary atresia
Operative view of complete extrahepatic biliary atresia.
Classification and external resources
Specialty medical genetics
ICD-10 Q44.2
ICD-9-CM 751.61
OMIM 210500
DiseasesDB 1400
MedlinePlus 001145
eMedicine ped/237
MeSH C06.130.120.123

Biliary atresia, also known as "extrahepatic ductopenia" and "progressive obliterative cholangiopathy", is a childhood disease of the liver in which one or more bile ducts are abnormally narrow, blocked, or absent. It can occur as a birth defect or as an acquired disease. As a birth defect in newborn infants, it has an incidence of one in 10,000 to 15,000 cases in live births in the United States,[1] with the most accurate prevalence recorded at one in 16,700 in the British Isles.[2][3] Biliary atresia is most common in East Asia, with a frequency of one in 5,000. In the congenital form, the common bile duct between the liver and the small intestine is either blocked or absent. The causes of biliary atresia are not well understood. Congenital biliary atresia has been associated with certain genes, while acquired biliary atresia is thought to be the result of an autoimmune inflammatory response, possibly to a viral infection of the liver soon after birth.[4] The only effective treatments[citation needed] are certain surgeries such as the Kasai procedure and liver transplantation.

Signs and symptoms[edit]

Initially, the symptoms of biliary atresia are indistinguishable from neonatal jaundice, a usually harmless condition commonly seen in infants after birth. Symptoms of biliary atresia are usually evident between one and six weeks after birth. Infants and children with biliary atresia develop progressive cholestasis, a condition in which bile is unable to leave the liver and builds up inside of it. When the liver is unable to excrete bilirubin through the bile ducts in the form of bile, bilirubin begins to accumulate in the blood, causing symptoms. These symptoms include yellowing of the skin, itchiness, poor absorption of nutrients (causing delays in growth), pale stools, dark urine, and a swollen abdomen. Eventually cirrhosis with portal hypertension will develop. Left untreated, biliary atresia can lead to liver failure. Unlike other forms of liver failure, however, biliary atresia-related liver failure does not result in kernicterus, a form of brain damage resulting from liver dysfunction. The reason for this is that the liver, although diseased, is still able to conjugate bilirubin, and conjugated bilirubin is unable to cross the blood–brain barrier.


There is no known cause of biliary atresia. Many theories were proposed about possible causes of biliary atresia such as reovirus 3 infection,[5] congenital malformation, congenital cytomegalovirus infection,[6] and autoimmune theory,[7] and none is supported by enough evidence to be accepted as an aetiology of biliary atresia.[8]

However, there have been extensive studies about the pathogenesis and proper management of progressive liver fibrosis.[citation needed] As the biliary tract cannot transport bile to the duodenum, bile is retained in the liver (a condition known as cholestasis), which results in cirrhosis of the liver. Proliferation of the small bile ductules occur, and peribiliary fibroblasts become activated. These "reactive" biliary epithelial cells in cholestasis, unlike normal condition, produce and secrete various cytokines such as CCL-2 or MCP-1, tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-6 (IL-6), TGF-beta, endothelin (ET), and nitric oxide (NO). Among these, TGF-beta is the most important profibrogenic cytokine that can be seen in liver fibrosis in chronic cholestasis. During the chronic activation of biliary epithelium and progressive fibrosis, afflicted patients eventually show signs and symptoms of portal hypertension (esophagogastric varix bleeding, hypersplenism, hepatorenal syndrome (HRS), hepatopulmonary syndrome (HPS)). The latter two syndromes are essentially caused by systemic mediators that maintain the body within the hyperdynamic states.[citation needed]

There are three main types of extra-hepatic biliary atresia:

  • Type I: atresia restricted to the common bile duct.
  • Type II: atresia of the common hepatic duct.
  • Type III: atresia of the right and left hepatic duct.

Approximately 10% of cases of Biliary Atresia Associated anomalies include, in about 10% cases, heart lesions, polysplenia, Situs inversus, absent vena cava, and a preduodenal portal vein.[citation needed]


Genetic association with the ADD3 gene was detected first in Chinese through a Genome-wide association study, and was confirmed later in Thailand Asians and Caucasians. A possible association with deletion of the gene GPC1 which encodes a glypican 1-a heparan sulfate proteoglycan has been reported.[9] This gene is located on the long arm of chromosome 2 (2q37). This gene is involved in the regulation of the gene Hedgehog and also of inflammation.


Eating plants that contain a toxin called biliatresone has been implicated in outbreaks of a biliary atresia-like illness in lambs[citation needed]. Studies are ongoing to determine whether there may be a link to human cases of biliary atresia. There are some indications that a metabolite of certain human gut bacteria may be similar to biliatresone. [10][11]


Diagnosis is made by assessing an individual's symptoms, physical exam, and medical history, in conjunction with blood tests, a liver biopsy and imaging. Diagnosis is often made following investigation of prolonged jaundice that is resistant to phototherapy and/or exchange transfusions and abnormalities in liver enzymes tests are present. Ultrasound investigation or other forms of imaging can confirm the diagnosis. Further testing includes radioactive scans of the liver and a liver biopsy.[citation needed]


If the intrahepatic biliary tree is unaffected, surgical reconstruction of the extrahepatic biliary tract is possible through an operation known as a Kasai procedure (after the Japanese surgeon who developed the surgery, Morio Kasai) or hepatoportoenterostomy. This procedure is not usually curative, but ideally does buy time until the child can achieve growth and undergo liver transplantation.[citation needed]

If the atresia is complete, liver transplantation is the only option. Timely Kasai portoenterostomy (e.g. < 60 postnatal days) has shown better outcomes. Nevertheless, a considerable number of the patients, even if Kasai portoenterostomy has been successful, eventually undergo liver transplantation within a couple of years after Kasai portoenterostomy.[citation needed]

Recent large volume studies from Davenport et al. (Ann Surg, 2008) show that the age of the patient is not an absolute clinical factor affecting the prognosis. In the latter study, influence of age differs according to the disease etiology—i.e., whether isolated BA, BASM (BA with splenic malformation ), or CBA(cystic biliary atresia).[citation needed]

It is widely accepted that corticosteroid treatment after a Kasai operation, with or without choleretics and antibiotics, has a beneficial effect on the postoperative bile flow and can clear the jaundice; but the dosing and duration of the ideal steroid protocol have been controversial ("blast dose" vs. "high dose" vs. "low dose"). Furthermore, it has been observed in many retrospective longitudinal studies that steroid does not prolong survival of the native liver or transplant-free survival. Davenport et al. also showed (hepatology 2007) that short-term low-dose steroid therapy following a Kasai operation has no effect on the mid- and long-term prognosis of biliary atresia patients.[citation needed]


Biliary atresia seems to affect females slightly more often than male[citation needed]. It is common for only one child in a pair of twins or only one child within the same family to have it[citation needed]. Asians and African-Americans are affected more frequently than Caucasian[citation needed]s. There seems to be no link to medications or immunizations given immediately before or during pregnancy[citation needed].[citation needed]

Notable People[edit]

As of 2013, numerous individuals are known to have undergone the Kasai procedure and lived for more than a few years without requiring additional surgeries[citation needed]. A group existing on Facebook as well as other social networking sites consist of patients and families who share both their success and hardship stories.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Suchy, Frederick J. (2015). "Anatomy, Histology, Embryology, Developmental Anomalies, and Pediatric Disorders of the Biliary Tract". In Feldman, Mark; Friedman, Lawrence S.; Brandt, Lawrence J. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Management (10th ed.). Elsevier Health Sciences. pp. 1055–77. ISBN 978-1-4557-4989-8. 
  2. ^ McKiernan, Patrick J; Baker, Alastair J; Kelly, Deirdre A (2000). "The frequency and outcome of biliary atresia in the UK and Ireland". The Lancet 355 (9197): 25–9. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(99)03492-3. PMID 10615887. 
  3. ^ Hartley, Jane L; Davenport, Mark; Kelly, Deirdre A (2009). "Biliary atresia". The Lancet 374 (9702): 1704–13. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60946-6. PMID 19914515. 
  4. ^ Mack, Cara L (2007). "The pathogenesis of biliary atresia: evidence for a virus-induced autoimmune disease". Seminars in Liver Disease 27 (3): 233–42. PMID 17682970. 
  5. ^ Mahjoub, Fatemeh; Shahsiah, Reza; Ardalan, Farid; Iravanloo, Guiti; Sani, Mehri; Zarei, Abdolmajid; Monajemzadeh, Maryam; Farahmand, Fatemeh; Mamishi, Setareh (2008). "Detection of Epstein Barr Virus by Chromogenic in Situ Hybridization in cases of extra-hepatic biliary atresia". Diagnostic Pathology 3: 19. doi:10.1186/1746-1596-3-19. PMC 2424033. PMID 18442403. 
  6. ^ Amer, O. T.; Abd El-Rahma, H. A.; Sherief, L. M.; Hussein, H. F.; Zeid, A. F.; Abd El-Aziz, A. M. (2004). "Role of some viral infections in neonatal cholestasis". The Egyptian Journal of Immunology 11 (2): 149–55. PMID 16734127. 
  7. ^ Wen, Jie; Xiao, Yongtao; Wang, Jun; Pan, Weihua; Zhou, Ying; Zhang, Xiaoling; Guan, Wenbin; Chen, Yingwei; Zhou, Kejun; Wang, Yang; Shi, Bisheng; Zhou, Xiaohui; Yuan, Zhenghong; Cai, Wei (2014). "Low doses of CMV induce autoimmune-mediated and inflammatory responses in bile duct epithelia of regulatory T cell-depleted neonatal mice". Laboratory Investigation 95 (2): 180–92. doi:10.1038/labinvest.2014.148. PMID 25531565. 
  8. ^ Saito, Takeshi; Shinozaki, Kuniko; Matsunaga, Tadashi; Ogawa, Tomoko; Etoh, Takao; Muramatsu, Toshinori; Kawamura, Kenji; Yoshida, Hideo; Ohnuma, Naomi; Shirasawa, Hiroshi (2004). "Lack of evidence for reovirus infection in tissues from patients with biliary atresia and congenital dilatation of the bile duct". Journal of Hepatology 40 (2): 203–11. doi:10.1016/j.jhep.2003.10.025. PMID 14739089. 
  9. ^ Cui, Shuang; Leyva–Vega, Melissa; Tsai, Ellen A.; Eauclaire, Steven F.; Glessner, Joseph T.; Hakonarson, Hakon; Devoto, Marcella; Haber, Barbara A.; Spinner, Nancy B.; Matthews, Randolph P. (2013). "Evidence from Human and Zebrafish That GPC1 is a Biliary Atresia Susceptibility Gene". Gastroenterology 144 (5): 1107–1115.e3. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2013.01.022. PMC 3736559. PMID 23336978. 
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