• chronic hepatitis outcome;
  • fibrosis progression;
  • serpin;
  • squamous cell carcinoma antigen

Summary.  About 30% of the patients with chronic hepatitis develop a progressive liver disease and one of the most intriguing issues is the detection of noninvasive markers for fibrosis stage and disease progression. High levels of squamous cell carcinoma antigen (SCCA)-immunoglobulin M (IgM) are detectable in hepatocellular carcinoma and their increase in cirrhotic patients can predict tumour development. As SCCA-IgM can also be detectable at low percentages in patients with chronic hepatitis, the aim of this study was to assess SCCA-IgM complexes in relation to disease outcome in this group of patients. An ELISA assay was used to determine the presence of SCCA-IgM in 188 patients with chronic hepatitis and in 100 controls. An additional serum sample was available after a median period of 6 years in 57 untreated patients: these patients were subdivided in group A, including eight patients with a fibrosis score increase ≥2 in a second liver biopsy and group B, including 49 patients without fibrosis progression during a similar follow up. SCCA-IgM complexes were detectable in 63 of 188 (33%) patients but in none of the controls. A significant increase of SCCA-IgM levels over time was observed in patients with fibrosis progression (mean ± SD: 117 ± 200 U/mL/year), but not in those without histologic deterioration (mean ± SD: –8.8 ± 31 U/mL/year, < 0.0001). In conclusion, monitoring SCCA-IgM levels over time appears a useful approach to identify patients with chronic hepatitis at higher risk for cirrhosis development.