Background/aims: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA is detectable in a proportion of patients with autoimmune hepatitis type 2, which is characterized by liver-kidney microsomal antibodies (LKM). Therefore, the genotype and sequence of HCV were studied in these patients.
Methods: Sera from 43 LKM-positive and anti-HCV-positive patients (15 from Germany and 28 from Italy) and 82 LKM-negative and anti-HCV-positive patients (57 from Germany and 25 from Italy) were examined.
Results: Genotyping revealed that the rate of genotype III HCV according to Okamoto's classification in patients with LKM antibody-positive autoimmune hepatitis type 2 was higher than in LKM-negative patients (22.0% vs. 2.4%; P < 0.05). This was because of an increase of genotype III in our patients from Italy. No HCV mutations were found that show a closer sequence homology to cytochrome P450IID6, the major LKM-1 antigen. Deletions in the envelope and nonstructural region 5 were found.
Conclusions: Because a specific HCV sequence is not associated with the induction of LKM-1 autoantibodies, future research must focus on host factors and possibly additional environmental factors.