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Is there a role for viruses in triggering autoimmune hepatitis?

A role for viruses in autoimmune hepatitis (AH) has been repeatedly proposed but convincing evidence links only two viruses, hepatitis A and Epstein-Barr virus, to the type 1 form of the disease, and only in those rare cases where a genetic predisposition exists and the viral infection occurs at the right time, i.e. when other unknown factors are cooperating. In spite of an impressive amount of information conclusively showing molecular mimicry between cytochrome P450IID6 (the target autoantigen of autoantibodies characteristic of AH type 2) sequences and viral (hepatitis C virus, herpes simplex virus 1, cytomegalovirus, human T lymphotropic viruses 1 and 2) or bacterial (Salmonella typhimurium) antigens, no infectious agent is clearly able to induce this second form of the disease. In conclusion, the molecular mimicry theory has so far found little clinical evidence in its support and many more clinical observations are needed in order to unreveal possible links between viruses and AH.

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