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Semin Liver Dis. 1998;18(3):217-25.

Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency.

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Department of Pediatrics, Washington University School of Medicine, Missouri 63110, USA.


Homozygous PIZZ alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, which has an incident of 1 in 1600 to 1 in 2000 live births, is the most common genetic cause of liver disease in children. It is also associated with chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma in adults. It is a well-known cause of pulmonary emphysema. Although emphysema is due to uninhibited proteolytic destruction of the connective tissue backbone of the lung, liver disease is thought to result from the toxic effects of the mutant alpha 1AT molecule retained within the endoplasmic reticulum of liver cells. Screening studies done by Sveger in Sweden have shown that only 10 to 15% of the PIZZ population develop clinically significant liver disease over the first 20 years of life. Recent studies have suggested that a subgroup of PIZZ individuals are predisposed to liver injury because of an inefficient degradation of mutant alpha 1ATZ within the endoplasmic reticulum. Altered migration of the abnormal alpha 1ATZ molecule in isoelectric focussing gels is the basis of the diagnosis of alpha 1AT deficiency. Treatment of alpha 1AT deficiency-associated liver disease is mostly supportive. Liver replacement therapy has been used successfully for severe liver injury. An increasing number of patients with severe emphysema have undergone lung transplantation.

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