Autoimmune tests in primary biliary cirrhosis


Strassburg CP, Manns MP




Baillieres Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol


Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) is characterized by an immune mediated, irreversible destruction of the small intrahepatic bile ducts leading to progressive liver cirrhosis and frequently to liver failure. The course of the disease is variable and an early diagnosis is desirable to identify individuals with rapidly progressing disease, to initiate adequate therapeutic measures and to evaluate the necessity of liver transplantation. Serological tests represent the single most important diagnostic feature of PBC because liver histology, biochemistry, or clinical syndrome alone are not reliable in this respect. The molecular definition of the autoantigen targets of antimitochondrial antibodies (AMA) has resulted in the development of reproducible and effective serological testing strategies. AMA directed against the ketoacid dehydrogenase complex are highly disease-specific but not directed against liver-specific target structures. Despite a high disease specificity, their usefulness for predicting the course of disease, the timing of liver transplantation, or disease recurrence after transplantation is limited. The realization that about 5% of patients with PBC do not display AMA has led to the identification of PBC-specific antinuclear autoantibodies directed against the nuclear pore complex and other targets. The overlap of PBC with autoimmune hepatitis and primary sclerosing cholangitis represents a diagnostic challenge in which autoantibody determinations play a central role and contribute to the administration of suitable treatment options.