Hepatitis C virus infection and autoimmunity

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection has been associated with a plethora of immune and autoimmune perturbations. We review serological and clinical autoimmune manifestations associated with HCV infection, discuss treatment regimens for HCV-related autoimmune diseases, and present a framework for understanding HCV-associated autoimmune disease by performing a computerized literature search from which representative articles were used and referenced. The immune response to HCV may include the development of cryoglobulins, rheumatoid factor, antinuclear antibodies (ANA), anticardiolipin, antithyroid, anti-liver/kidney/microsomal antibodies (anti-LKM), as well as HCV/anti-HCV immune complex formation and deposition. HCV infection is a significant cause of mixed essential cryoglobulinemia, which may then be complicated by cryoglobulinemic glomerulonephritis, vasculitis, or neuropathy. It has also been associated with membranous and membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis. Subsets of autoimmune hepatitis patients are infected with HCV and evidence suggests that HCV is a causative agent of antithyroid antibodies and autoimmune thyroid disease. Although cause-and-effect remain to be proved, there are reports of HCV infection preceding or coincident with polyarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and polymyositis/dermatomyositis (PM/DM). HCV-infected patients also have a high incidence of sialoadenitis, and reports of low-grade lymphoproliferative malignancies have emerged. However, HCV is not a major causative factor for most autoimmune diseases. Optimal treatment for HCV-related autoimmune disease remains to be determined. Interferon alpha (IFN alpha) has successfully reduced viremia/transaminitis, cryoglobulins, proteinuria, and nephritis, but recurrent disease manifestations are frequent after discontinuation of therapy. Moreover, IFN alpha may precipitate or exacerbate autoimmune disease symptoms. HCV-related autoimmune disease also has been treated successfully with corticosteroids, azathioprine, and cyclophosphamide, although HCV viremia persists and may worsen.

Author: McMurray RW, Elbourne K, Department of Medicine, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson 39216, USA. SOURCE: Semin Arthritis Rheum 26 (4): 689-701 (1997)

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