Autoimmune hepatitis is a consequence of a triggering antigen and genetic factors that favor the presentation of autoantigens, polymorphisms that affect immunocyte activation and durability, cytokine alterations that promote proliferation of liver-infiltrating cytotoxic T cells, and perturbations in the number and function of immune-regulatory cell populations, including T regulatory cells and natural killer T cells. The triggering epitope is probably a short sequence peptide that is common in multiple infectious or toxic agents. Homologies between this epitope and self-antigens (molecular mimicry) may stimulate humoral and cellular responses that are cross-reactive. Sensitized immunocytes extend and perpetuate the inflammation through imprecise targeting of self-antigens that resemble foreign antigens (promiscuous behavior). The occurrence and clinical phenotype of the disease may relate to genetic susceptibility factors that favor protracted exposure to indigenous etiological agents, and these genetic factors can vary in different geographical regions and ethnic groups. The clinical phenotype within a population can be modified further by genetic polymorphisms that are not disease specific and that affect immunocyte activation, differentiation, proliferation and programmed death (apoptosis). Autoimmune hepatitis is a model of autoreactivity that reflects multiple disturbances in the counter-regulatory mechanisms essential for immune homeostasis.
Genotype frequency distribution for a number of polymorphic loci in patients differs significantly in different nosologic groups, in relation to each other and to a sample of healthy individuals. Genetic structure specificity of each nosologic group and different trends of genetic frequency variations, in relation to the sample of healthy individuals, leads to considerable decrease in genetic differences between the united group of pathology and healthy individuals' sample. Spatial differentiation of genetic structure of separate nosologic groups and healthy individuals' sample also confirms genetic isolation of each of these groups and, at the same time, reveals clearly nonspecific biological resistance of human organism.
Results from the Canadian Collaborative Project on Genetic Susceptibility to Multiple Sclerosis (MS)-Phase 1 (CCPGSMS-Phase 1) together with other family data published since 1982 have led to the following conclusions about the etiology of MS: (i) genetic and non-genetic (environmental) factors are involved in the etiology of MS on a population basis; (ii) the familial aggregation of MS is genetic; (iii) maternal factors do not influence the risk for siblings to develop MS; and (iv) MS appears to be oligogenic. The present paper describes the rationale and methodology for the CCPGSMS-Phase 2.
The CCPGSMS-Phase 2 is a nation-wide collaborative effort involving all the 15 Canadian MS clinics. A series of structured questionnaires is administered to MS index cases, spouse controls and mothers of index cases and spouse controls (if available) by trained interviewers. Blood samples are taken for molecular genetic studies. This national effort is coordinated by the MS Clinics in Vancouver and London.
The CCPGSMS-Phase 2 is in progress so specific results are not available. The study is designed to (i) increase the database for genetic epidemiological/molecular genetic research and (ii) gather population-based data to further our understanding of the non-genetic factors in the etiology of MS.
It is anticipated that the results from this study will impact on the eventual prevention, cure and treatment of MS.