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An innate immune response to bacterial components is speculated to be involved in the pathogenesis of primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC). Recently, CD4-positive T helper type 17 (Th17) cells, characterized by the secretion of interleukin (IL)-17, have been implicated in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases. Human Th17 cells are generated from Th0 cells by IL-6 and IL-1β and maintained by IL-23. In this study, the role of IL-17 in PBC and its association with biliary innate immunity were examined. Using cultured human biliary epithelial cells (BECs), the expression of Th17-related cytokines and chemokines and changes therein on treatment with pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) and IL-17 were examined. Immunohistochemistry for IL-17 and Th17-related cytokines was performed using tissue samples of human liver. Consequently, the expression of IL-6, IL-1β, IL-23p19 and IL-23/IL-12p40 mRNAs, and their up-regulation by PAMPs, were found in BECs. Moreover, BECs possessed IL-17-receptors and stimulation with IL-17 induced production of IL-6, IL-1β, IL-23p19 and chemokines. Several IL-17-positive cells had infiltrated damaged bile ducts and the expression of IL-6 and IL-1β was enhanced in the bile ducts of PBC patients. In conclusion, IL-17-positive cells are associated with the chronic inflammation of bile ducts in PBC which is associated causally with the biliary innate immune responses to PAMPs.