A simple immunofluorescence test for antibody to a mitochondrial antigen present in many tissues is a reliable method of distinguishing most cases of primary biliary cirrhosis from jaundice due to extrahepatic biliary tract obstruction. Of 30 cases diagnosed as primary biliary cirrhosis, 26 had antimitochondrial antibody whereas none of 77 cases with jaundice due to extrahepatic bile duct obstruction showed this serological abnormality. The antibody was also found in the serum of three of 42 patients who had other forms of cirrhosis and in two of 266 patients with no evidence of liver disease.
Clinical, biochemical, and serological findings favour the view that primary biliary cirrhosis is a real entity which, in our present state of knowledge, cannot be defined clearly by any single method of investigation. In particular, the liver may show a variety of histological appearances which, interpreted without regard to the other features of the case, may lead to errors in diagnosis.
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