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Summary

Background

Autoimmune hepatitis can be rendered treatment-free, but the difficulty, frequency and risks associated with the pursuit of this outcome are unclear.

Aim

To describe the frequency that autoimmune hepatitis can be rendered treatment-free, identify the features that characterise these patients, examine the pathogenic pathways that may sustain or terminate the disease and indicate management protocols that can obtain this result.

Methods

Studies cited in Pub Med from 1972–2014 for autoimmune hepatitis, treatment, relapse, remission and outcome were selected.

Results

The frequency of a treatment-free state varies from 19% to 40% in patients observed for ≥3 years after drug withdrawal. Complete laboratory resolution and reversion to normal liver tissue prior to drug withdrawal favours this response. The development of cirrhosis during therapy may increase treatment-dependence. Persistent liver damage and the generation of neo-antigens during the apoptosis of hepatocytes may perpetuate the disease. Genetic and age-related effects on the vigour of the immune response may also contribute. Reversion to normal liver tissue is achieved in only 22% of patients during conventional corticosteroid therapy, and the emerging pharmacological and biological interventions may improve this frequency. A management strategy designed to achieve a treatment-free state accommodates all candidates for this outcome, and it can be modified to a long-term maintenance strategy as warranted by the clinical response.

Conclusions

Permanent drug withdrawal is a treatment outcome that is desirable and achievable in patients with autoimmune hepatitis. Normalisation of liver tests and liver tissue during treatment enhances this occurrence.