Author(s): Czaja AJ
BACKGROUND: Corticosteroid therapy has been the time-honoured treatment for autoimmune hepatitis; however, the emergence of new immunosuppressive agents has afforded opportunities to improve or replace the standard regimens. OBJECTIVE: To describe technological advances and feasible treatment interventions that promise to supplant the current generation of corticosteroids. METHODS: A review of the MEDLINE database for published experiences from 1984 to 2011 was conducted. RESULTS: Cyclosporine and tacrolimus have been uniformly successful as salvage therapies for steroid-refractory autoimmune hepatitis. Ten reports of cyclosporine therapy involving 133 patients had positive outcomes in 93%, whereas therapy with tacrolimus in three reports involving 41 patients had positive outcomes in 98%. Salvage therapy with mycophenolate mofetil had a favourable outcome in 47%, especially in patients with azathioprine intolerance. Front-line therapy with mycophenolate mofetil normalized liver parameters in 88% and allowed corticosteroid tapering in 58%. Front-line therapy with budesonide combined with azathioprine for six months normalized liver parameters more frequently (47% versus 18%) and with fewer side effects (28% versus 53%) than prednisone combined with azathioprine. Monoclonal antibodies to CD3 and recombinant cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen 4 fused with immunoglobulin represent feasible molecular interventions for study in autoimmune hepatitis. DISCUSSION: Nonstandard drug therapies must be used in highly selected clinical situations including steroid failure (calcineurin inhibitors), azathioprine intolerance (mycophenolate mofetil), and mild disease or fragile patients (budesonide combined with azathioprine). Molecular interventions for autoimmune hepatitis are feasible for study because of their use in other immune-mediated diseases. CONCLUSION: Opportunities to improve or replace standard corticosteroid regimens have emerged.