Virchows Archiv

, Volume 473, Issue 1, pp 15–22 | Cite as

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

  • Prodromos Hytiroglou
  • Neil D. Theise
Review and Perspectives
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Vascular liver lesions: contemporary views on long-recognized entities


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.


Regression Cirrhosis Incomplete septal cirrhosis Vascular lesions 


Sources of funding


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PathologyAristotle University Medical SchoolThessalonikiGreece
  2. 2.Department of PathologyNew York University School of MedicineNew YorkUSA

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