Auto-antibodies were studied in a well-characterized cohort of children with chronic hepatitis C (CHC) during treatment with PEG-IFN and ribavirin to assess the relationship to treatment and development of autoimmune disease.
114 children (5–17 years), previously screened for the presence of high titer autoantibodies, were randomized to Peg-IFN with or without ribavirin. Anti-nuclear (ANA), anti-liver-kidney-microsomal (LKM), anti-thyroglobulin (TG), anti-thyroid peroxidase (TPO), insulin (IA2), anti-glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) antibodies were measured after trial completion using frozen sera.
At baseline,19% had auto-antibodies: ANA (8%), LKM (4%), and GAD (4%). At 24 and 72 weeks (24 weeks after treatment completion), 23% and 26% had auto-antibodies (p=0.50, 0.48 compared to baseline). One child developed diabetes and two hypothyroidism during treatment; none developed autoimmune hepatitis. At 24 weeks, the incidence of flu-like symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms, and headaches were 42%, 8% and 19% in those with auto-antibodies vs. 52%, 17%, and 26% in those without (p=0.18, 0.36, and 0.20, respectively). In children with negative HCV PCR at 24 weeks, there was no difference in the rate of early virologic response /sustained virologic response respectively in those with auto-antibodies 76%/69%, vs 58%/65% in those without (p=0.48).
Despite screening, we found autoantibodies commonly at baseline, during treatment for CHC and after. The presence of antibodies did not correlate with viral response, side effects, or autoimmune hepatitis. Neither screening nor archived samples assayed for thyroid and diabetes-related antibodies identified the 3 subjects who developed overt autoimmune disease, diabetes (1) and hypothyroidism (2).