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Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) in chronic hepatitis C virus infection: correlates of positivity and clinical relevance


Dr Leland J. Yee, Department of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health, 130 DeSoto Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.


Summary.  We examined correlates of antinuclear antibody (ANA) positivity (ANA+) in individuals with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and the effect of positivity on clinical outcome of HCV. Pretreatment sera from 645 patients from three centres in Sweden (n = 225), the UK (n = 207) and Italy (n = 213) were evaluated by indirect immunofluorescence on Hep-2 cells for ANA pattern and titre by a single laboratory. Liver biopsies were all scored by one pathologist. A total of 258 patients were subsequently treated with interferon monotherapy. There was a significant difference in the prevalence of ANA (1:40) by geographic location: Lund 4.4%, London 8.7%, Padova 10.3% [odds ratio (OR) = 0.66; 95% CI: 0.46–0.94; P = 0.023]. Duration of HCV infection, age at infection, current age, route of infection, viral genotype, alcohol consumption, fibrosis stage and inflammatory score were not correlated with ANA+ or ANA pattern. Female gender was correlated with ANA+ and this association persisted in multivariable analyses (OR = 3.0; P = 0.002). Increased plasma cells were observed in the liver biopsies of ANA-positive individuals compared with ANA-negative individuals, while a trend towards decreased lymphoid aggregates was observed [hazard ratio (HR) = 9.0, P = 0.037; HR = 0.291, P = 0.118, respectively]. No correlations were observed between ANA positivity and nonresponse to therapy (OR = 1.4; P = 0.513), although ANA+ was correlated with faster rates of liver fibrosis, this was not statistically significant (OR = 1.8; P = 0.1452). Low titre ANA+ should not be a contraindication for interferon treatment. Our observation of increased plasma cells in ANA+ biopsies might suggest B-cell polyclonal activity with a secondary clinical manifestation of increased serum immunoglobulins.