Digestive Diseases and Sciences

, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp 689–696 | Cite as

Defense system in the biliary tract against bacterial infection

  • J. Y. Sung
  • J. W. Costerton
  • E. A. Shaffer
Review Article


Bacteria can invade the biliary tract by ascending from the duodenum and via the hematogenous route from the hepatic portal venous blood. The sphincter of Oddi, situated at the junction of the biliary tract and the upper gastrointestinal tract, forms an effective mechanical barrier to duodenal reflux and ascending bacterial infection. Conversely, Kupffer cells and the tight junctions between hepatocytes help prevent bacteria and toxic metabolites from entering the hepatobiliary system from the portal circulation. The continuous flushing action of bile and the bacteriostatic effects of bile salts keeps the biliary tract sterile under normal conditions. Secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), the predominant immunoglobulin in the bile, and mucus excreted by the biliary epithelium probably function as antiadherence factors, preventing microbial colonization. When barrier mechanisms break down, as in surgical or endoscopic sphincterotomy and with insertion of biliary stents, pathogenic bacteria enter the biliary system at high concentrations and take up residence on any foreign bodies. Intrabiliary pressure is a key factor in the development of cholangitis. Chronic biliary obstruction raises the intrabiliary pressure. This adversely influences the defensive mechanisms such as the tight junctions, Kupffer cell functions, bile flow, and sIgA production in the system, resulting in a higher incidence of septicemia and endotoxemia in these patients. Knowledge of biliary defense against infection is still quite primitive. Unclear are the roles of sIgA in the bile, mechanism of bacterial adhesion to the biliary epithelium, Kupffer cell function in biliary obstruction, and the antimicrobial activity of bile salts.

Key Words

defense mechanism biliary tract bacteria 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Y. Sung
    • 1
    • 2
  • J. W. Costerton
    • 1
    • 2
  • E. A. Shaffer
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.Department of MedicineUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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