Primary Biliary Cirrhosis - PBC

  • Diagnosis
  • Algorithms
  • Screening
  • Background
  • Lab Tests
  • References
  • Related Topics

Indications for Testing

  • Chronic pruritus
  • Jaundice without evidence of other causes

Criteria for Diagnosis

  • Established when two of three criteria are met (Lindor, 2009)
    • Cholestasis with elevation of alkaline phosphatase for at least six months
    • Presence of antimitochondrial antibodies (AMA)
    • Histopathology demonstrating nonsuppurative cholangitis and destruction of small- or medium-size bile ducts

Laboratory Testing

  • Alkaline phosphatase, bilirubin – persistently elevated
    • Mild elevation of transaminase levels is common
  • AMA M2 antibody
    • 5-10% of patients with PBC are AMA-negative
      • Diagnosis based on liver histology and clinical presentation
    • AMA M2 levels do not appear to correlate with clinical consequences or disease progression
  • Serological testing should include other autoimmune liver antibodies to rule out autoimmune hepatitis (AIH), primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), or overlap syndromes
    • Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) – found in nearly 50%
    • Smooth muscle antibody (SMA)
      • Titer >1:80 in conjunction with positive AMA M2 – consider overlap syndrome
    • Liver-kidney microsome-1 antibody
    • Antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA)

Histology

  • Liver biopsy
    • Unnecessary for diagnosis if patient has positive AMA and evidence of cholestasis
    • Allows for classification of disease severity (stages I-IV)
    • Required for AMA-negative disease 
    • Pathological lesion is chronic nonsuppurative destructive cholangitis
    • At least 10-15 portal tracts must be present in liver biopsy specimen for confirmation of PBC
      • Patchy distribution of lesions

Imaging Studies

  • Ultrasound imaging of liver and biliary tree is obligatory to rule out extrahepatic cholestasis
  • If all studies are negative and PBC is suspected, perform endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, cholangiography, or magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography

Prognosis

  • AMA with IgG3 subclass may identify patients with risk of more severe disease

Differential Diagnosis

  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Biliary carcinoma
  • Cholelithiasis
  • Chronic hepatitis (viral hepatitis B or C)
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis

Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) is an autoimmune liver disorder characterized by chronic, progressive cholestatic disease.

Epidemiology

  • Prevalence – 19-402/million (Bowlus, 2014)
  • Age – peak onset in 40s-50s
    • Uncommon <25 years
  • Sex – M<F, 1:10 (Bowlus, 2014)
  • Ethnicity – most common in Caucasians from northern regions (Scandinavia, Canada, U.S.)

Risk Factors

  • Presence of another autoimmune disorder
  • Family history of PBC
    • 50- to 100-fold higher risk for first-generation relatives of patients with PBC, compared to the general population
  • Past or present smoking
  • Frequent use of nail polish or hair dyes
  • Female sex
  • Previous pregnancies

Pathophysiology

  • Disease entity thought to be the result of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers
  • Characterized by T-cell-mediated destruction of bile duct epithelial cells, resulting in loss of ducts and persistent cholestasis
    • Eventual liver failure without treatment
  • Pathogenesis
    • Defect in immune tolerance resulting in the expansion of self-mitochondrial antigen specific for T and B lymphocytes
    • Inappropriate immune response following environmental or infectious agent causes modification of mitochondrial proteins or molecular mimicry
      • Anti-mitochondrial antibody (AMA) forms – present in 95% of patients; highly specific for PBC
    • Involvement of the small intrahepatic ducts

Clinical Presentation

Tests generally appear in the order most useful for common clinical situations. Click on number for test-specific information in the ARUP Laboratory Test Directory.

Autoimmune Liver Disease Evaluation with Reflex to Smooth Muscle Antibody (SMA), IgG by IFA 2007210
Method: Semi-Quantitative Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay/Semi-Quantitative Indirect Fluorescent Antibody

Limitations

Negative antibody testing does not rule out ALD

All interpretation of antibody patterns must be done in conjunction with clinical presentation

There may be overlap between diseases and antibodies detected

No single test shows absolute specificity

ANCA-Associated Vasculitis Profile (ANCA/MPO/PR-3) with Reflex to ANCA Titer 2006480
Method: Semi-Quantitative Indirect Fluorescent Antibody/Semi-Quantitative Multiplex Bead Assay

Limitations

Negative antibody testing does not rule out ALD

All interpretation of antibody patterns must be done in conjunction with clinical presentation

There may be overlap between diseases and antibodies detected

No single test shows absolute specificity

Mitochondrial M2 Antibody, IgG (ELISA) 0050065
Method: Semi-Quantitative Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay

Limitations

Negative mitochondrial M2 antibody test result does not rule out PBC; about 5-10% of patients with PBC are seronegative

All interpretation of antibody patterns must be done in conjunction with clinical presentation

There may be overlap between diseases and antibodies detected

No single test shows absolute specificity

Anti-Nuclear Antibodies (ANA), IgG by ELISA with Reflex to ANA, IgG by IFA 0050080
Method: Qualitative Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay/Semi-Quantitative Indirect Fluorescent Antibody

Follow Up

ANA ELISA assays have been reported to have lower sensitivities for antibodies associated with nucleolar and speckled ANA-IFA patterns

Related Tests

Guidelines

Lindor KD, Gershwin E, Poupon R, Kaplan M, Bergasa NV, Heathcote J, American Association for Study of Liver Diseases. Primary biliary cirrhosis. Hepatology. 2009; 50(1): 291-308. PubMed

General References

Bhandari BM, Bayat H, Rothstein KD. Primary biliary cirrhosis. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2011; 40(2): 373-86, viii. PubMed

Bogdanos D, Invernizzi P, Mackay I, Vergani D. Autoimmune liver serology: current diagnostic and clinical challenges. World J Gastroenterol. 2008; 14(21): 3374-87. PubMed

Bowlus CL, Gershwin E. The diagnosis of primary biliary cirrhosis. Autoimmun Rev. 2014; 13(4-5): 441-4. PubMed

Floreani A, Franceschet I, Cazzagon N. Primary biliary cirrhosis: overlaps with other autoimmune disorders. Semin Liver Dis. 2014; 34(3): 352-60. PubMed

Granito A, Muratori P, Quarneti C, Pappas G, Cicola R, Muratori L. Antinuclear antibodies as ancillary markers in primary biliary cirrhosis. Expert Rev Mol Diagn. 2012; 12(1): 65-74. PubMed

Hirschfield GM. Diagnosis of primary biliary cirrhosis. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2011; 25(6): 701-12. PubMed

Hohenester S, Oude-Elferink RP J, Beuers U. Primary biliary cirrhosis. Semin Immunopathol. 2009; 31(3): 283-307. PubMed

Kumagi T, Heathcote J. Primary biliary cirrhosis. Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2008; 3: 1. PubMed

Lindor KD, Gershwin E, Poupon R, Kaplan M, Bergasa NV, Heathcote J, American Association for Study of Liver Diseases. Primary biliary cirrhosis. Hepatology. 2009; 50(1): 291-308. PubMed

Momah N, Lindor KD. Primary biliary cirrhosis in adults. Expert Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014; 8(4): 427-33. PubMed

Nakamura M. Clinical significance of autoantibodies in primary biliary cirrhosis. Semin Liver Dis. 2014; 34(3): 334-40. PubMed

Yimam KK, Bowlus CL. Diagnosis and classification of primary sclerosing cholangitis. Autoimmun Rev. 2014; 13(4-5): 445-50. PubMed

References from the ARUP Institute for Clinical and Experimental Pathology®

Medical Reviewers

Last Update: December 2015