The peribiliary vascular plexus plays an important role in physiology of bile flow. Disturbance of the microcirculation may contribute to ductal injury, but little is known about alterations in the vascular supply of small bile ducts in liver disease. Immunoperoxidase stains for vascular endothelium (Ulex europaeus, factor VIII-related antigen, CD34) were used to study the peribiliary vascular plexus in 20 cases of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and 27 cases of primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), two diseases characterized by bile duct destruction. Normal liver from 10 autopsy cases of sudden cardiac death was used as a control. Interlobular bile ducts (20- to 80-microm diameter) were identified on AE1/AE3 immunostain; vessels adjacent to the basement membrane of these ducts were counted. Normal interlobular bile ducts had an average of 2.15 vessels per duct (range, 1.68 to 2.71). Few PBC or PSC cases had a normal number of peribiliary vessels. There was a trend toward vasopenia at higher stage, although vascular loss was noted in early stages as well. The pattern of vascular loss was different for the two diseases; in PSC, the periductal capillaries were often preserved but were pushed away from the basement membrane by concentric deposits of collagen. Small residual vessels could be identified within fibrous scars of obliterated bile ducts in PSC. In 4 stage 3 or 4 PSC cases with little bile duct injury, vessel/duct ratio approached normal levels. In PBC, vessels were obliterated in areas of granulomatous inflammation and heavy lymphocytic infiltrate around bile ducts. In conclusion, loss of peribiliary vessels is common in PSC and PBC. Vessel loss is seen in early stages and may contribute an element of ischemia to continued small bile duct loss but is probably secondary to the inflammatory process.