Novel mechanism of fetal hepatocyte injury in congenital alloimmune hepatitis involves the terminal complement cascade

Hepatology. 2010 Jun;51(6):2061-8. doi: 10.1002/hep.23581.


Evidence suggests that most neonatal hemochromatosis (NH) is the phenotypic expression of gestational alloimmune fetal liver injury. Gestational alloimmune diseases are induced by the placental passage of specific reactive immunoglobulin G and often involve the activation of fetal complement by the classical pathway leading to the formation of membrane attack complex (MAC) as the effector of cell injury. We examined liver specimens from cases of NH, from cases of non-NH liver disease, and from infants without liver disease to determine if they would provide evidence that MAC is involved in hepatocyte injury. Sections were immunostained with anti-human C5b-9 complex, the terminal complement cascade (TCC) neoantigen formed in the assembly of MAC. Fetal liver injury in NH cases is associated with a severe loss of hepatocytes. In all NH cases examined, most remaining hepatocytes showed intense staining for TCC neoantigen, whereas hepatocytes in non-NH liver disease cases showed variable light staining. The percentage of hepatocytes containing TCC neoantigen in NH was much greater than that in non-NH liver disease, and there was no overlap between the groups. Findings in both groups suggest that hepatocytes have mechanisms to protect against MAC, including a biliary pathway for its excretion.

Conclusion: The finding that all cases of proven NH contained TCC neoantigen far in excess of cases of other neonatal liver diseases suggests that a single process, namely congenital alloimmune hepatitis, is the principal cause of NH. MAC-mediated alloimmune injury in congenital alloimmune hepatitis is a novel mechanism of liver injury that results from an interplay of maternal adaptive immunity and fetal innate immunity.

MeSH terms

  • Complement Membrane Attack Complex / metabolism*
  • Fetus / metabolism
  • Hemochromatosis / congenital*
  • Hemochromatosis / metabolism
  • Hemochromatosis / pathology
  • Hepatitis / congenital*
  • Hepatitis / metabolism
  • Hepatitis / pathology
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology


  • Complement Membrane Attack Complex