Hepatocytes isolated from 101 biopsies were examined for membrane-bound IgG. The sera of the patients were tested for anti-liver-specific lipoprotein by radioimmunoassay and for liver membrane autoantibody (by indirect immunofluorescence on isolated rabbit hepatocytes. The seven patients with normal liver or minor nonspecific alterations were negative for membrane IgG and serum antibodies. Membrane IgG with granular distribution was found in 41 patients [21 hepatitis B virus-related chronic active hepatitis (CAH), 3 cryptogenic CAH, 3 chronic persistent hepatitis, 6 prolonged viral hepatitis, 1 alcoholic cirrhosis, and 6 primary biliary cirrhosis]. Membrane IgG with linear fluorescence pattern was detected in 12 cases (4 autoimmune CAH, 3 HBsAg-positive CAH, 2 alcoholic cirrhosis, 1 anti-HBc positive CAH, 1 cryptogenic CAH, and 1 prolonged viral hepatitis). A strong association between granular IgG and serum HBsAg was found. Nuclear localization of IgG was found in 34 patients and correlated with the positivity of granular membrane IgG.
The highest prevalence of anti-liver-specific lipoprotein was found in primary biliary cirrhosis and autoimmune CAH cases which were also positive for liver membrane autoantibody. No relationship was found between the presence of membrane IgG and circulating liver-specific autoantibodies.
Membrane IgG and anti-liver-specific lipoprotein correlated with the presence of moderate and severe portal inflammatory infiltration but not with piecemeal necrosis or transaminase levels. Eleven of the twelve patients with linear membrane IgG presented chronic active liver disease with moderate to severe signs of liver damage.
Therefore, it is suggested that, while granular membrane IgGs are related to hepatitis B virus, antigenic expression on the hepatocyte surface and/or the presence of immune complexes, linear membrane IgG could play a role in the immunopathogenesis of liver cell damage particularly in “autoimmune” cases which present high percentages of positive cells liver-specific autoantibodies.