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BACKGROUND—Several retrospective and prospective studies report an increased prevalence of non-organ-specific autoantibodies (NOSAs) in patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) related chronic liver disease (CLD). Some of the data so far available are controversial and the true prevalence of NOSAs in the general population is still not known.
AIM—To explore the prevalence of NOSAs, their relation to different HCV genotypes, and the presence and severity of CLD in the general population of Northern Italy.
PATIENTS—All 226 anti-HCV positive and 87 hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) positive patients of the Dionysos cohort study were analysed and compared with sex and age matched cases (226) negative for both anti-HCV antibody and HBsAg selected from the same cohort.
METHODS—Sera tested for the presence of NOSAs (anti-nuclear antibody (ANA), anti-smooth muscle antibody (SMA), and anti-liver/kidney microsomes type 1 antibody (LKM1)) were screened by indirect immunofluorescence at a 1:40 serum dilution. HCV RNA and HCV genotypes were also determined by nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) of the 5' non-coding region and by PCR amplification of the core region with type specific primers.
RESULTS—The overall prevalence of NOSA reactivity was significantly higher in anti-HCV positive subjects than in both normal and pathological controls (25% v 6% and 7% respectively, p<0.05). ANA, SMA, and LKM1 occurred in 16, 10, and 1.3% of cases respectively. No specific association between NOSAs and a specific HCV genotype was found. NOSAs were found more often associated with more than one genotype (35.7%) and with untypable genotypes (34.6%), although the association was not statistically significant. NOSAs were associated with HCV RNA and CLD but not with the presence of cirrhosis and/or hepatocellular carcinoma. On univariate analysis, NOSA reactivity was independently associated with abnormal alanine aminotransferase (p<0.01) and γ-glutamyltranspeptidase levels (p<0.05). The risk for the presence of NOSAs was 5.1 times higher in anti-HCV subjects than in controls.
CONCLUSIONS—In the general population the prevalence of NOSAs is higher in anti-HCV positive subjects than in normal or disease controls. Moreover NOSAs are associated with CLD and with a more active disease in terms of alanine aminotransferase activity.
Keywords: non-organ-specific autoantibodies; hepatitis C virus genotypes; chronic liver disease; cohort study; prevalence