Expression of cytokeratin 20 in developing rat liver and in experimental models of ductular and oval cell proliferation

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Recently, a novel type of cytokeratin (CK) has been added to the classical catalog of CKs as CK20. The aim of the present study was to examine the immunoreactivity for CK20 in normal and developing rat liver and in experimental models of bile ductular and oval cell proliferation.


Eighty-five Fischer rats, subdivided into five groups, were utilized in this study: fetal rats, ranging from day 10 to day 21 of gestation; newborn-neonatal rats, from 2 h to 10 days of age; bile duct ligated (BDL) rats; alpha-naphthyl-isothiocyanate (ANIT)-treated rats; and rats fed a choline-deficient diet containing N-2 Fluorenylacetamide (CD-AAF rats). Frozen sections from each liver were stained with the CK20 specific monoclonal antibody IT-KS20.10.


The present study shows that CK20 is a "bile duct type" CK. In the fetal rat, CK20 appears late during intrahepatic bile duct development, at day 20 of gestation. A marked increase in CK20 expression occurs after birth, suggesting that intrahepatic bile duct maturation continues after birth and that CK20 may be considered as a "maturation" marker of the biliary tree. In BDL rats and in ANIT-treated animals, immunoreactivity of bile ductules for CK20 was strikingly heterogeneous. A variable number of proliferating biliary cells were weakly positive or negative for CK20 and their number increased with the duration of the obstruction or ANIT treatment. In CD-AAF-treated rats, we found a uniform staining of proliferating oval cells for CK20. This finding is in contrast with the observation in BDL and in ANIT groups, and suggests the existence of different mechanisms regulating the proliferation and differentiation of biliary cells under those conditions.


In rat liver, CK20 may be added to the list of "bile duct type" cytokeratins. During development, CK20 expression may be related to the maturation stage of the biliary tree. Typical ductular proliferation induced by BDL or ANIT feeding clearly differs from the oval cell proliferation in the CD-AAF model in terms of immunoreactivity for CK20.

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