Autoimmune liver disease: overlap and outliers.


The three main categories of autoimmune liver disease are autoimmune hepatitis (AIH), primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC); all are well-defined entities with diagnosis based upon a constellation of clinical, serologic, and liver pathology findings. Although these diseases are considered autoimmune in nature, the etiology and possible environmental triggers of each remain obscure. The characteristic morphologic patterns of injury are a chronic hepatitis pattern of injury with prominent plasma cells in AIH, destruction of small intrahepatic bile ducts and canals of Hering in PBC, and periductal fibrosis and inflammation involving larger bile ducts with variable small duct damage in PSC. Serological findings include the presence of antimitochondrial antibodies in PBC, antinuclear, anti-smooth muscle, and anti-LKM antibodies in AIH, and pANCA in PSC. Although most cases of autoimmune liver disease fit readily into one of these three categories, overlap syndromes (primarily of AIH with PBC or PSC) may comprise up to 10% of cases, and variant syndromes such as antimitochondrial antibody-negative PBC also occur. Sequential syndromes with transition from one form of autoimmune liver disease to another are rare.