Utility of serum immunoglobulin G4 in distinguishing immunoglobulin G4-associated cholangitis from cholangiocarcinoma

Hepatology. 2011 Sep 2;54(3):940-8. doi: 10.1002/hep.24487. Epub 2011 Aug 8.


Elevated serum immunoglobulin G4 (sIgG4) is a feature of autoimmune pancreatitis (AIP) and IgG4-associated cholangitis (IAC); a >2-fold increase in sIgG4 is considered highly specific for these disorders. Many patients with IAC present with biliary strictures and obstructive jaundice, making cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) an important differential diagnosis. We determined the value of sIgG4 in distinguishing IAC from CCA. sIgG4 levels were measured in a test cohort of 126 CCA and 50 IAC patients. The results were confirmed in a validation cohort of 161 CCA and 47 IAC patients. Of the 126 CCA patients in the test cohort, 17 (13.5%) had elevated sIgG4 (>140 mg/dL) and four (3.2%) had a >2-fold (>280 mg/dL) increase. Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) was present in 31/126 CCA patients, of whom seven (22.6%) had elevated sIgG4 and two (6.5%) had a >2-fold elevation. Of the 50 IAC patients, 39 (78.0%) had elevated sIgG4 and 25 (50.0%) had a >2-fold increase. The results in the validation cohort were consistent with those of the test cohort.

Conclusion: Although elevated sIgG4 levels are characteristic of IAC, some patients with CCA, particularly with PSC, have elevated sIgG4 levels, including a small percentage with a more than a 2-fold increase in sIgG4. Therefore, sIgG4 elevation alone does not exclude the diagnosis of CCA. Depending on the prevalence of the two diagnoses, the use of a 2-fold cutoff for sIgG4 may not reliably distinguish IAC from CCA. At a cutoff of 4 times the upper limit of normal, sIgG4 is 100% specific for IAC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / immunology
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / mortality
  • Bile Ducts, Intrahepatic*
  • CA-19-9 Antigen / blood
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / diagnosis*
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / immunology
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / mortality
  • Cholangitis / diagnosis*
  • Cholangitis / immunology
  • Cholangitis / mortality
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • CA-19-9 Antigen
  • Immunoglobulin G