Identifying autoimmune hepatitis as the etiology of acute liver failure (ALF) is potentially important, because administering corticosteroids might avoid the need for liver transplantation. However, clinical and histological criteria of autoimmune ALF (AI-ALF) have not been defined. Liver sections (biopsies and explants) from a 72-patient subset of the ALF Study Group Registry with indeterminate ALF were reviewed by a pathologist blinded to all clinical data and were diagnosed with probable AI-ALF based on four features suggestive of an autoi mmune pathogenesis: distinctive patterns of massive hepatic necrosis (present in 42% of sections), presence of lymphoid follicles (32%), a plasma cell-enriched inflammatory infiltrate (63%), and central perivenulitis (65%). Forty-two sections (58%) were considered probable for AI-ALF; this group demonstrated higher serum globulins (3.7 ± 0.2 g/dL versus 3.0 ± 0.2 g/dL; P = 0.037) and a higher prevalence of antinuclear and/or anti-smooth muscle antibodies (73% versus 48%; P = 0.034) compared to those without histology suggestive of probable AI-ALF. Thirty patients concordant for autoantibodies and probable AI-ALF upon histological analysis were more likely to have the classical autoimmune hepatitis phenotype (female predominance [72% versus 48%; P < 0.05], higher globulins [3.9 ± 0.2 g/dL versus 3.0 ± 0.2 g/dL; P < 0.005], and higher incidence of chronic hepatitis in long-term follow-up [67% versus 17%, P = 0.019]) compared to the population without concordant AI-ALF histology and autoantibodies. Conclusion: Patients with indeterminate ALF often have features of autoimmune disease by histological analysis, serological testing, and clinical recurrence during follow-up. In contrast to classical autoimmune hepatitis, histological features of AI-ALF predominate in the centrilobular zone.
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