Antigen presentation, autoantibody production, and therapeutic targets in autoimmune liver disease

Cell Mol Immunol. 2020 Oct 27. doi: 10.1038/s41423-020-00568-6. Online ahead of print.


The liver is an important immunological organ that controls systemic tolerance. The liver harbors professional and unconventional antigen-presenting cells that are crucial for tolerance induction and maintenance. Orchestrating the immune response in homeostasis depends on a healthy and well-toned immunological liver microenvironment, which is maintained by the crosstalk of liver-resident antigen-presenting cells and intrahepatic and liver-infiltrating leukocytes. In response to pathogens or autoantigens, tolerance is disrupted by unknown mechanisms. Intrahepatic parenchymal and nonparenchymal cells exhibit unique antigen-presenting properties. The presentation of microbial and endogenous lipid-, metabolite- and peptide-derived antigens from the gut via conventional and nonconventional mechanisms can educate intrahepatic immune cells and elicit effector responses or tolerance. Perturbation of this balance results in autoimmune liver diseases, such as autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cholangitis, and primary sclerosing cholangitis. Although the exact etiologies of these autoimmune liver diseases are unknown, it is thought that the disruption of tolerance towards self-antigens and microbial metabolites and lipids, as well as alterations in bile acid composition, may result in changes in effector cell activation and polarization and may reduce or impair protective anti-inflammatory regulatory T and B cell responses. Additionally, the canonical and noncanonical transmission of antigens and antigen:MHC complexes via trogocytosis or extracellular vesicles between different (non) immune cells in the liver may play a role in the induction of hepatic inflammation and tolerance. Here, we summarize emerging aspects of antigen presentation, autoantibody production, and the application of novel therapeutic approaches in the characterization and treatment of autoimmune liver diseases.

Keywords: antigen presentating cell; autoimmune liver disease; liver tolerance.

Publication types

  • Review