Autoimmune hepatitis: current challenges and future prospects

Yoshio Aizawa, Atsushi Hokari
Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology 2017, 10: 9-18
Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is a chronic progressive liver disease characterized by high levels of aminotransferases and autoantibodies, hypergammaglobulinemia, and interface hepatitis. AIH affects all races and all ages worldwide, regardless of sex, although a preponderance of females is a constant finding. The etiology of AIH has not been completely elucidated, but immunogenetic background and environmental parameters may contribute to its development. The most important genetic factor is human leukocyte antigens (HLAs), especially HLA-DR, whereas the role of environmental factors is not completely understood. Immunologically, disruption of the immune tolerance to autologous liver antigens may be a trigger of AIH. The diagnosis of classical AIH is fairly easy, though not without pitfalls. In contrast, the diagnosis of atypical AIH poses great challenges. There is confusion as to the definition of the disease entity and its boundaries in the diagnosis of overlap syndrome, drug-induced autoimmune hepatitis, and AIH with concomitant nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) or chronic hepatitis C. Centrilobular zonal necrosis is now included in the histological spectrum of AIH. However, the definition and the significance of AIH presenting with centrilobular zonal necrosis have not been examined extensively. In ~20% of AIH patients who are treated for the first time with standard therapy, remission is not achieved. The development of more effective and better tolerated novel therapies is an urgent need. In this review, we discuss the current challenges and the future prospects in relation to the diagnosis and treatment of AIH, which have been attracting considerable recent attention.

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