Journal Information
Vol. 88. Issue 5.
Pages 285-286 (1 May 2018)
Vol. 88. Issue 5.
Pages 285-286 (1 May 2018)
Scientific Letter
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Seronegative autoimmune hepatitis: Description of two paediatric cases
Hepatitis autoinmune seronegativa, descripción de 2 casos en edad pediátrica
Lorena Lahílla Cuelloa,
Corresponding author

Corresponding author.
, Ignacio Ros Arnalb, Ruth García Romerob, Carlos Hörndler Argaratec
a Servicio de Pediatría, Hospital Miguel Servet, Zaragoza, Spain
b Servicio de Pediatría, Unidad de Gastroenterología Pediátrica, Hospital Miguel Servet, Zaragoza, Spain
c Servicio de Anatomía Patológica, Hospital Miguel Servet, Zaragoza, Spain
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Tables (2)
Table 1. Clinical characteristics and histological features found in our 2 patients.
Table 2. Evolution of serum transaminase levels in our 2 patients.
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Dear Editor,

Classic autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is a progressive and chronic form of hepatitis of unknown aetiology characterised by an immune response that targets hepatocytes. It is diagnosed based on laboratory findings (elevated aminotransferase levels, hypergammaglobulinaemia and presence of antibodies) and compatible findings of liver biopsy: interface hepatitis, plasma cell infiltrate, rosette formation (microacinar transformation of hepatocytes) and/or fibrosis, necrosis and cirrhosis.

In recent years, a new form of disease has been described, seronegative AIH, on which few data have been published in the paediatric literature.1,2 It is similar to classic AIH, but is characterised by the absence of antibodies and may present in association with other autoimmune diseases.2,3 It manifests with clinical and biochemical signs of chronic hepatitis in the absence of features indicative of other aetiologies (infectious, metabolic, toxic, etc.). Blood tests usually reveal elevated transaminase levels and absence of antibodies, with additional absence of hypergammaglobulinaemia in up to 25% of cases. Liver biopsy reveals features compatible with AIH, and affected patients respond well to immunosuppressive therapy, as do patients with classic AIH.4,5

Considering this newly described form, we reviewed 2 cases of chronic hepatitis of unknown aetiology manifesting with fibrosis on liver biopsy managed in our paediatric gastroenterology clinic, with the purpose of determining whether they may fit the criteria for seronegative AIH.

The first case corresponded to a male patient aged 12 years referred to our clinic for investigation of persistent elevation of serum transaminases of 2 years’ duration (serum glutamic oxaloacetic transaminase [SGOT], 62–325IU/L; serum glutamic pyruvic transaminase [SGPT] 100–430IU/L) detected by chance during a routine blood test. The second corresponded to a female patient aged 6 years that had received a diagnosis of coeliac disease 3 years earlier; she had elevated serum transaminases before diagnosis that persisted in the follow-up blood tests (SGOT, 80–630IU/L; SGPT, 90–820IU/L) despite normalisation of serological markers of coeliac disease.

In both cases, the investigation of the elevation of serum transaminases failed to identify its aetiology: the chemistry and metabolic panels revealed normal iron metabolism, with negative serological markers of coeliac disease (in the second case, initially positive with normalisation after removal of gluten from the diet), absence of clotting abnormalities, normal thyroid function and normal immunoglobulin levels. The patients had no history of exposure to hepatotoxic drugs, and the investigation ruled out infection, classic AIH (due to negative antibody tests), alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, Wilson disease, lysosomal acid lipase deficiency and muscle and metabolic disorders. Both patients underwent repeated ultrasound examinations and a magnetic resonance cholangiography, the findings of which were normal. Given that all tests gave negative results while serum transaminases remained elevated, a liver biopsy sample was obtained for histopathological examination, resulting in a diagnosis of idiopathic liver fibrosis in both cases.

We contacted the anatomical pathology department and suggested the possibility of seronegative AIH, which led to performance of a targeted review of the histological features of both cases. The examination revealed cirrhosis and plasma cell infiltration, interface hepatitis in the first case, and necrosis in the second case. Rosettes were not found in either case. Based on these findings, the pathology report indicated that the cases were compatible with seronegative AIH. Table 1 summarises the anatomical pathology findings and the clinical characteristics of these 2 patients.

Table 1.

Clinical characteristics and histological features found in our 2 patients.

  Case 1  Case 2 
Age  12 years  6 years 
Sex  Male  Female 
Personal history  –  Coeliac disease 
Clinical features  Asymptomatic  Asymptomatic 
Autoantibodies  Negative  Negative 
Antinuclear Ab     
Antimitochondrial Ab     
Anti-smooth muscle Ab     
Anti-parietal cell Ab     
Anti-DNA Ab     
Anti-liver-kidney microsomal antibody type 1 (ALKM-1)     
Anti-liver cytosol antibody-1 (ALC-1)     
Ac. anti AMA-M2     
Anti F-actin Ab     
Anti-soluble liver antigen/liver pancreas     
Ab (anti-SLA/LP)     
Anti-gp210 Ab     
Anti-sp100 Ab     
IgG  Within normal range  Within normal range 
Anatomical pathology     
Interface hepatitis  Yes  No 
Plasma cell infiltrate  Yes  Yes 
Rosette formation  No  No 
Fibrosis, cirrhosis  Yes  Yes 
Necrosis  No  Yes 

In light of the histopathological findings, and since other aetiologies had been ruled out previously, we proposed the diagnosis of seronegative AIH and, in agreement with the family, decided to initiate treatment in both patients with glucocorticoids at a dose of 2mg/kg/day to be tapered to a maintenance dose of 2.5mg every other day, with introduction of azathioprine on day 15 at a dose of 0.5mg/kg/day, increasing the dose gradually until reaching 2mg/kg/day.

In both patients, the serum transaminase levels (SGOT and SGPT) had normalised at 3 months of treatment, and they remained within the normal range at 6 months with the patients receiving minimum doses of glucocorticoids. Table 2 shows the evolution of serum transaminase levels in the 2 patients.

Table 2.

Evolution of serum transaminase levels in our 2 patients.

    Prior to liver biopsy  At treatment initiation  At 3 months of treatment  At 6 months of treatment 
Case 1  SGOT (IU/L)  62–325  89  31  40 
  SGPT (IU/L)  100–430  163  58  35 
Case 2  SGOT (IU/L)  80–630  82  26  33 
  SGPT (IU/L)  90–820  93  22  18 

In our experience, histological examination by a pathologist with a focus on seronegative AIH in two cases of unspecified fibrosis led to a new diagnosis and allowed effective treatment in both patients.

Seronegative AIH is a newly defined disease for which little data is available in the paediatric age group. At the moment, the possibility of an autoimmune aetiology should be considered in idiopathic cases of chronic hepatitis, especially in patients with a history of other autoimmune diseases such as coeliac disease,2,3 even if antibody detection tests are negative. We recommend performance of a liver biopsy in such cases and, should the results be compatible with autoimmune disease, early initiation of immunosuppressive therapy to halt the progression of liver disease.

G. Maggiore, G. Socie, M. Sciveres, A.M. Roque-Afonso, S. Nastasio, C. Johanet, et al.
Seronegative autoimmune hepatitis in children: spectrum of disorders.
Dig Liver Dis, 48 (2016), pp. 785-791
M.A. Quail, R.K. Russell, C. Bellamy, G. Mieli-Vergani, P.M. Gillett.
Seronegative autoimmune hepatitis presenting after diagnosis of coeliac disease: a case report.
Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol, 21 (2009), pp. 576-579
S. Caprai, P. Vajro, A. Ventura, M. Sciveres, G. Maggiore, and the SIGENP Study Group for Autoimmune Liver Disorders in Celiac Disease.
Autoimmune liver disease associated with celiac disease in childhood: a multicenter study.
Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol, 6 (2008), pp. 803-806
A. Czaja.
Autoantibody-negative autoimmune hepatitis.
Dig Dis Sci, 57 (2012), pp. 610-624
G. Maggiore, S. Nastasio, M. Sciveres.
Juvenile autoimmune hepatitis: spectrum of the disease.
World J Hepatol, 6 (2014), pp. 464-476

Please cite this article as: Lahílla Cuello L, Ros Arnal I, García Romero R, Hörndler Argarate C. Hepatitis autoinmune seronegativa, descripción de 2 casos en edad pediátrica. An Pediatr (Barc). 2018;88:285–286.

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