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Regression of human cirrhosis: an update, 18 years after the pioneering article by Wanless et al.


Cirrhosis has been traditionally viewed as an irreversible, end-stage condition. Eighteen years ago, Wanless, Nakashima, and Sherman published a study that was based on the concept that hepatic architecture is under constant remodeling in the course of chronic liver diseases, even during their most advanced stages; depending on the balance between injury and repair, the histologic changes might be progressing or regressing. These authors described in detail the morphologic features of regressing cirrhosis, identified a set of histologic features of regression that they called the “hepatic repair complex,” and provided convincing morphologic evidence that incomplete septal cirrhosis represents regressed cirrhosis. In the years that followed publication of this pioneering article, a number of clinical studies with performance of pre- and post-treatment liver biopsies provided abundant evidence that cirrhosis can regress after successful therapy of chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C, autoimmune hepatitis, and genetic hemochromatosis. Evidence for other chronic liver diseases may also be provided in the future, pending ongoing studies. Successful therapy allows resorption of fibrous septa, which can be followed by loss of nodularity and architectural improvement; however, many vascular lesions of cirrhotic livers are not thought to regress. Cases of cirrhosis that are considered more likely to improve than others include those of recent onset, with relatively thin fibrous septa and mild vascular changes. Histologic examination of liver biopsy specimens from patients with chronic liver diseases provides the opportunity to appreciate the features of the hepatic repair complex on a routine diagnostic basis; however, interpretation is often difficult, and can be aided by immunohistochemical stains. Clinicopathologic correlation is essential for a meaningful assessment of such cases. For many patients, cirrhosis is not an end-stage condition anymore; therefore, use of the term “cirrhosis” has been challenged, almost 200 years after its invention. However, regression of cirrhosis does not imply regression of molecular changes involved in hepatocarcinogenesis; therefore, surveillance for hepatocellular carcinoma should be continued in these patients.

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Correspondence to Prodromos Hytiroglou.

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This is part of a topical collection entitled "Vascular liver lesions: contemporary views on long-recognized entities"

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Hytiroglou, P., Theise, N.D. Regression of human cirrhosis: an update, 18 years after the pioneering article by Wanless et al.. Virchows Arch 473, 15–22 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00428-018-2340-2

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  • Regression
  • Cirrhosis
  • Incomplete septal cirrhosis
  • Vascular lesions