Liver biopsy is important for diagnosing primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC). Prior investigations suggest that immunostaining for biliary keratin 19 (K19) may show the earliest changes suspicious for PBC, namely, loss of the canals of Hering (CoH). We aimed to study the clinical outcomes of patients whose biopsy specimens appeared histologically near normal or with minimal inflammatory changes, but in which K19 staining revealed widespread periportal CoH loss, a finding we termed "minimal change PBC." Ten patients were identified prospectively as having nearly normal or mildly inflamed biopsy specimens without diagnostic or suggestive histologic features of PBC, but with near complete CoH loss; six had available follow-up clinical data, one had follow-up biopsy. Controls for clinical and/or K19 analysis included six normal livers and biopsy specimens from 10 patients with confirmed early PBC, 10 with early stage chronic hepatitis C (CHC), and nine with resolving, self-limited hepatitis (RSLH). Staining for K19 in normal controls, livers with "minimal change" PBC, CHC, and RSLH showed 9.2 ± 6.0, 0.44 ± 0.37 (P < 0.0001), 5.7 ± 4.6 (n.s.), 4.1 ± 2.1 (P < 0.02) CoH per portal tract, respectively. Patients with available clinical follow up, compared to patients with diagnostic early-stage PBC biopsies, showed identical treatment responses to ursodeoxycholic acid, similar rates and types of nonhepatic autoimmune diseases, and/or subsequent development of autoimmune hepatitis overlap syndrome.
Conclusion: We suggest that CoH loss demonstrated by K19 immunostaining is an early feature in PBC. Clinical findings in the years following biopsy, including response to ursodeoxycholic acid, show identical changes to patients with biopsy confirmed PBC. We suggest that this "minimal change" feature may support a clinical diagnosis of PBC even in the absence of characteristic, granulomatous, duct destructive lesions.
Copyright © 2012 American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.