Bile duct cells (BDCs), especially intrahepatic cholangiocytes, are primary targets of immune-related injury in such pathologic processes as liver graft rejection, liver graft-versus-host disease, and primary sclerosing cholangitis. Cholestasis and progressive loss of intrahepatic BDCs indicate chronicity in these diseases. The present investigation characterizes the acquisition of immune markers of intrahepatic BDCs isolated from mice after bile duct ligation. Purified BDCs from cholestatic C57BL/6 (H-2b) mice express not only the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I and class II antigens but also the costimulatory molecules B7-1 (CD80) and B7-2 (CD86). The expression of the MHC class II molecules on BDCs before and after interferon (IFN)-γ exposure is also demonstrated by immunohistochemistry on the cultured cells. Cytotoxicity assays indicate the vulnerability of these cells as targets for immunologic injuries. Effector cells generated from B10.BR splenocytes (H-2(k)) against C57BL/6 splenocytes (H-2b) show comparable killing of BDCs and EL4 cells, the latter being a lymphoma line that was established from the C57BL/6N (H-2b) mouse. An immortalized mouse BDC line (IBDC) is included in this study to validate some of the findings from BDCs isolated from bile duct-ligated mice. We suggest that cholestatic BDCs express surface antigens different from those of normal epithelial cells that result in increased susceptibility to damage by immune mechanisms.