• Vol. 32 No. 2, 239–243
  • 15 March 2003

Autoimmune Liver Disease in Children

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ABSTRACT

Autoimmune liver disorders are characterised by an inflammatory liver histology, circulating non-organ specific autoantibodies and increased levels of immunoglobulin G (IgG) in the absence of a known aetiology. They respond to immunosuppressive treatment, which should be instituted as soon as diagnosis is made. Liver disorders with a likely autoimmune pathogenesis include autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) and autoimmune sclerosing cholangitis (ASC). Two types of AIH are recognised according to seropositivity for smooth muscle and/or antinuclear antibody (SMA/ANA, type 1) or liver kidney microsomal antibody (LKM1, type 2). There is a female predominance in both. LKM1-positive patients tend to present more acutely, at a younger age, and commonly have immunoglobulin A (IgA) deficiency, while duration of symptoms before diagnosis, clinical signs, family history of autoimmunity, presence of associated autoimmune disorders, response to treatment and long-term prognosis are similar in both groups. The most common type of paediatric sclerosing cholangitis is ASC. The clinical, biochemical, immunological and histological presentation of ASC is often indistinguishable from that of AIH. In both, there are high IgG, non-organ specific autoantibodies and interface hepatitis. Diagnosis is made by cholangiography. Children with ASC respond to immunosuppression satisfactorily and similarly to AIH in respect to remission and relapse rates, times to normalisation of biochemical parameters and decreased inflammatory activity on follow-up liver biopsies. However, the cholangiopathy can progress and there may be an evolution from AIH to ASC over the years, despite treatment. Whether the juvenile autoimmune form of sclerosing cholangitis and AIH are 2 distinct entities, or different aspects of the same condition, remains to be elucidated.


Autoimmune liver disorders are inflammatory liver diseases characterised histologically by a dense mononuclear cell infiltrate, including plasma cells, in the portal tract (Fig. 1) and serologically by the presence of non-organ and liver-specific autoantibodies and increased levels of immunoglobulin G (IgG), in the absence of a known aetiology. They usually respond to immunosuppressive treatment, which should be instituted as soon as diagnosis is made.

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