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Semin Liver Dis. 2011 May;31(2):147-56. doi: 10.1055/s-0031-1276644. Epub 2011 May 2.

Progress in the genetics of primary biliary cirrhosis.

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  • 1Liver Centre, Toronto Western Hospital and Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) is a chronic cholestatic liver disease that has a prevalence of 1 in 1000 women over the age of 40. Treatment is presently limited to ursodeoxycholic acid, a hydrophilic bile acid that has nonspecific, choleretic, effects in cholestatic liver disease. PBC has strong autoimmune features, including highly specific loss of tolerance to a ubiquitous mitochondrial antigen. Both environmental and genetic factors are considered important in the pathogenesis of disease. Prior to the advent of genome-wide association studies, only class II human leucocyte antigen (HLA) loci (HLA-DRB1*08, *11, and *13) had been reproducibly shown to associate with disease. Non-HLA loci were suggested for several genes (e.g., CTLA-4, MDR3), but often inconclusively replicated. With the application of genome-wide technology, HLA was confirmed as the strongest association and many other risk loci have been identified, with equivalent effect size to HLA, including IL12A, IL12RB2, STAT4, IRF5-TNPO3, 17q12.21, MMEL1, SPIB, and CTLA-4. These collectively support an important role for innate and adaptive immunity in development of disease. Further insights are predicted as studies with larger cohorts are assembled, and different approaches are taken to further discover common and uncommon gene variants associated with disease. Disease subphenotypes such as response to therapy, clinical progression, and symptoms remain additional areas for further dedicated studies, and in which different genetic risk factors may be relevant. Identification of risk loci associated with disease has the potential to aid development of rational, disease-specific, therapies in the future.

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