Autoantibody-Negative Autoimmune Hepatitis

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Abstract

Autoimmune hepatitis has a variable clinical phenotype, and the absence of conventional autoantibodies does not preclude its diagnosis or need for treatment. The goals of this review are to describe the frequency and nature of autoantibody-negative autoimmune hepatitis, indicate its outcome after corticosteroid treatment, and increase awareness of the diagnosis in patients with unexplained acute and chronic hepatitis. The frequency of presumed autoantibody-negative autoimmune hepatitis in patients with acute and acute severe presentations is ≤7%, and its frequency in patients with chronic presentations is 1-34%. Patients with acute presentations can have normal serum γ-globulin levels, centrilobular zone 3 necrosis, and low pre-treatment international diagnostic scores. Liver tissue examination is essential for the diagnosis, and hepatic steatosis can be a co-morbid feature. The comprehensive international scoring system can support but never override the clinical diagnosis pre-treatment, and non-standard serological markers should be sought if the clinical diagnosis is uncertain or the diagnostic score is low. A 3-month treatment trial with corticosteroids should be considered in all patients, regardless of the serological findings, and improvements have occurred in 67-87% of cases. Autoantibody-negative autoimmune hepatitis may be associated with an autoantibody outside the conventional battery; it may have a signature autoantibody that is still undiscovered, or its characteristic autoantibodies may have been suppressed or have a delayed expression. The pathogenic mechanisms are presumed to be identical to those of classical disease. Autoantibody-negative autoimmune hepatitis is an infrequent but treatable disease that must be considered in unexplained acute and chronic hepatitis.

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