Protracted, but not acute, hepatitis A virus infection is strongly associated with HLA-DRB1*1301, a marker for pediatric autoimmune hepatitis



HLA alleles are known to be associated with susceptibility to develop autoimmune hepatitis (AH), and hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection is postulated as a putative trigger for AH. We investigated whether HLA may influence the outcome of the HAV infection by studying 67 children with self-limited and 39 children with protracted forms of this infection. HLA typing of the uncomplicated forms showed no significant increase of any HLA class I or II alleles. In contrast, DRB1*1301 was present in 46.1% of the children with protracted forms (vs. 9.8% in healthy controls; relative risk [RR]: 7.6; χ2 = 33.3; P = 2 × 10−9). In uncomplicated hepatitis, 45% developed anti-smooth muscle antibody (SMA)/actin antibodies, but only 1 child had detectable antibodies after 3 months of infection onset. In contrast, after 1 year, 69% of the patients suffering protracted forms had titers of anti-SMA/actin antibodies that ranged between 1:40 and 1:160. Within their follow-up, 2 patients developed a Hashimoto's thyroiditis, but the remaining patients showed no signs of developing autoimmune hepatitis. We conclude that the DRB1*1301 haplotype is strongly associated with the protracted forms of HAV infection and suggest that the infection allows a sustained release of liver self-antigens. However, other still-unknown susceptibility genes are required for the full development of pediatric AH.