Graft dysfunction mimicking autoimmune hepatitis following liver transplantation in adults



In children, a type of graft dysfunction associated with autoimmune features has been described. We have identified 7 adult liver-transplant (LT) recipients from a series of over 1,000 consecutive transplant recipients who presented between 0.3 years and 7.2 years following transplantation with characteristic symptoms, autoantibody profiles, and histologic findings of autoimmune disease. The indications for transplantation were Ecstasy overdose, alcohol-related cirrhosis, primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) (2), primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), hepatitis C cirrhosis, and cryptogenic cirrhosis. Two patterns of de novo autoantibody development were noted; anti–liver-kidney-microsome (LKM) antibody development at high titer in association with an aspartate transaminase (AST) > 500 and antinuclear (ANA) and antismooth muscle (AMA) antibody development at titers >1/80 with lower AST levels. All cases had elevated IgG. Liver biopsies showed changes of an autoimmune-type hepatitis with portal and periportal hepatitis in association with a marked infiltrate of plasma cells, lymphocytes, and bridging collapse. Two patients lost their grafts because of the disease. Patients were treated with reintroduction of steroids and azathioprine in cases in which it had been withdrawn. Major histocompatibility class I and II mismatching did not incur risk. Eight of 12 liver allografts were acquired from either DRB*0301- or DRB*0401-positive donors, and 4 recipients were DRB*0301-positive. This series illustrates that both symptoms and histologic findings of graft dysfunction compatible with autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) exist in adult LT recipients. Graft loss may be a consequence. This entity may represent a specific type of rejection that should currently be classified as “graft dysfunction mimicking autoimmune hepatitis.” (HEPATOLOGY 2001;34:464-470.)