Background: Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) and autoimmune pancreatitis (AIP) share clinical and pathological features such as high serum levels of immunoglobulin (Ig) G and autoantibodies, and lymphoplasmacytic infiltration, suggesting the presence of common immunological abnormalities. However, little is known about the possible involvement of IgG4, a hallmark of AIP, in AIH.
Aims: In this study, we examined whether the IgG4 response contributes to the histopathological and clinical findings in AIH.
Methods: Liver sections from 26 patients with AIH, 10 patients with primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), three patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and 20 chronic hepatitis patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection were immunostained for IgG4. We investigated the relationship among the histopathology, the responses to steroid therapy and the IgG4 staining.
Results: Nine of the 26 liver specimens from patients with AIH showed positive staining for IgG4 whereas none of the 10 samples from patients with PBC, the three samples from patients with PSC or the 20 samples from patients with HCV hepatitis were positive. Patients with IgG4-positive AIH also showed increased serum levels of IgG. The numbers of T cells, B cells and plasma cells were significantly increased in the livers of patients with IgG4-positive AIH as compared with those patients with IgG4-negative AIH. Patients with IgG4-positive AIH also showed a marked response to prednisolone therapy.
Conclusions: AIH may be classified into either an IgG4-associated type or an IgG4 non-associated type with the former showing a marked response to prednisolone treatment.