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Keywords:

  • GSTT1;
  • immune hepatitis;
  • liver transplantation

Four patients of 283 liver-transplant recipients (1·4%) developed de novo immune-mediated hepatitis approximately 2 years after transplantation. Antibodies showing an unusual liver/kidney cytoplasmic staining pattern were detected in the sera of all four patients and one of them was used to screen a human liver cDNA expression library with the aim of identifying the antigenic target of these newly developed antibodies. After cloning and sequencing the gene, it was identified as the gene encoding the glutathion-S-transferase T1 (GSTT1), a 29-kD molecular weight protein, expressed abundantly in liver and kidney. Sera from the other three patients also contained anti-GSTT1 antibodies, two of them demonstrated by immunoblot analysis against the recombinant antigen and the other, which was negative by immunoblot, gave a positive reaction when used directly to screen the same library, suggesting it to be directed to a conformational epitope. The GSTT1 enzyme is the product of a single polymorphic gene that is absent from 20% of the Caucasian population. When we analysed the GSTT1 genotype of the four patients described above, we found that this gene is absent from all of them. Three donor paraffin embedded DNA samples were available and were shown to be positive for GSSTT1 genotype. In accordance with these results, we suggest that this form of post-transplant de novo immune hepatitis, that has been reported as autoimmune hepatitis by others, could be the result of an antigraft reaction in individuals lacking the GSTT1 phenotype, in which the immune system recognizes the GSTT1 protein as a non-self antigen, being the graft dysfunction not the result of an autoimmune reaction, but the consequence of an alo-reactive immune response.