Complement system is not activated in primary biliary cirrhosis

Marco Gardinali, Luisa Conciato, Cristina Cafaro, Andrea Crosignani, Pier Maria Battezzati, Angelo Agostoni, Mauro Podda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is controversial evidence suggesting that the classical pathway of complement system is chronically activated in primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) and that complement activation may be important in development of bile duct injury. We have reevaluated this issue by measuring by-products of complement activation such as C4a, C3a, Bb, and terminal complement complexes (SC5b-9) in plasma of 44 PBC patients with sensitive methods not previously used to detect complement activation in this disease. Age-matched healthy women and patients with chronic hepatitis of different etiology were studied as controls. We found that PBC patients have normal C4a concentrations. This finding argues strongly against chronic classical pathway activation. Although a minor increase of C3a levels was observed in a minority of PBC patients, the C3a/C3 ratio, an index used to evaluate the extent of native protein conversion, was remarkably similar in all groups. Potentially lytic terminal complement complexes were not increased. PBC patients had normal Bb plasma levels, indicating that the alternative pathway is also not activated. C3 concentration was higher in PBC patients than in healthy subjects and in chronic hepatitis patients, particularly in the early stages of the disease. C3 and C4 concentrations became lower in PBC and chronic hepatitis with the progression of the disease. The increase of C3 concentration in PBC does not reflect liver inflammation, since serum levels of C-reactive protein are normal. We found high serum C3 levels in patients with rare chronic cholestatic syndromes without superimposed infections and observed that serum C3 levels paralleled those of bilirubin in a patient with benign recurrent intrahepatic cholestasis. In conclusion, our data indicate that complement is not activated in PBC and that the increase of serum C3 levels is related to cholestasis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-303
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Immunology and Immunopathology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1998


  • Cholestasis
  • Chronic hepatitis
  • Complement system
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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