Objectives: We reviewed our experience with patients who had biochemical and histological features of primary biliary cirrhosis in the absence of antimitochondrial antibodies (AMA) to better understand this variant of the syndrome.
Methods: During the period between 1976 to 1992, 597 patients with clinical and histological features of primary biliary cirrhosis were seen at the Mayo Clinic. Thirty-five (5.8%) of these patients were negative for antimitochondrial antibody and had normal cholangiographic studies. The records of these patients were reviewed for this study.
Results: No difference was found between the two groups with respect to age, gender, or biochemical features. IgM and gamma-globulin levels were higher in the antimitochondrial antibody-positive than the antimitochondrial antibody-negative patients. What is more important, 96% of the AMA-negative patients who could be tested were positive for antinuclear antibody or anti-smooth-muscle antibodies. These tests were positive in only 56% of the antimitochondrial antibody-positive group (p < 0.05). The response of five of these patients to ursodeoxycholic acid appeared comparable to the response seen in antimitochondrial antibody-positive patients.
Conclusions: Patients with histological features of primary biliary cirrhosis, whether antimitochondrial antibody positive or negative, are quite comparable with respect to clinical and biochemical features. Other autoantibodies, such as antinuclear or anti-smooth-muscle antibodies, are more common in the antimitochondrial antibody-negative group. These two conditions might be part of a spectrum that has been termed "autoimmune cholangitis" and that is characterized by chronic cholestasis, histological features of chronic nonsuppurative destructive cholangitis, and the presence of any of a variety of serum autoantibodies.