Background: Hypergammaglobulinaemia and various auto-antibodies which are commonly seen in autoimmune hepatitis are also found in patients with chronic hepatitis C. We recently reported that ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) improved liver function tests and immunoserological markers in patients with type I autoimmune hepatitis. The aim of this study was to prospectively evaluate the efficacy of UDCA on autoimmune-associated chronic hepatitis C.
Methods: Immunoglobulin G (IgG), anti-nuclear antibodies (ANA) and anti-smooth muscle antibodies (ASMA) were determined in 95 patients with chronic hepatitis C. All patients were positive for hepatitis C virus RNA. Autoimmune-associated chronic hepatitis C (C-AIH) was defined by elevated serum IgG level (> or = 2.0 g/dL) and high titres of ANA and/or ASMA (> or = 1 : 160). Nine (9%) of 95 patients were diagnosed as C-AIH. All the C-AIH patients and 30 of the remaining 86 chronic hepatitis C patients without autoimmune features (CHC) were treated with UDCA (600 mg/day) for 1 year.
Results: Autoimmune-associated chronic hepatitis C patients included one man and eight women and their AIH scores, as defined by the International Autoimmune Hepatitis Group, were significantly higher than the CHC patients. Before UDCA therapy, there were no significant differences in aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and y-glutamyl transpeptidase (gamma-GTP) levels between C-AIH and CHC patients. However, after 1 year UDCA therapy, AST, ALT and gamma-GTP were significantly lower in C-AIH patients (P< 0.05) than in CHC patients. In C-AIH, ANA titres in seven of nine patients and ASMA titres in five of seven patients were reduced after 1 year UDCA treatment.
Conclusions: These results suggest that UDCA is a useful therapeutic agent for autoimmune-associated chronic hepatitis C.