Background: The role of HCV infection in the development of chronic liver disease is still unclear.
Objectives: Assess the presence of HCV infection in patients with liver cirrhosis.
Study design: 123 cases of cirrhotic liver randomly selected over a 25 years period (1969-1994) from the autopsy archives of the Pathology Department of the University of Trieste, Italy, were analyzed for the presence of HCV viral genome.
Methods: Total RNA was extracted from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissues of the cirrhotic liver. Genotype analysis for HCV was performed after RT-PCR by dot-blot hybridization with the three major genotype-specific probes (G1, G2 and G3).
Results: The overall HCV genome frequency was 50.4% (62/123). The positivity was quite constant in the 1969-1979 period (35-38%), rose to 65% in 1984, peaked to 77% in 1989 (P<0.005 vs. the previous decade), and decreased to 50% in 1994. HCV genotype G1 was found in 89% of the 62 positive samples. The mean age of death of HCV-positive and HCV-negative patients was comparable (69+/-12 vs. 67+/-16 years, NS).
Conclusions: These data show an increasing frequency of HCV infection in cirrhotic liver tissues from 1969 to 1994, which peaked in 1989. The genotype G1 was the almost uniquely associated with cirrhosis. These findings indicate that the HCV infection occurred around the late 1950s-early 1960s, thus supporting the hypothesis of a cohort effect. HCV infection seems not to alter the natural history of liver cirrhosis as indicated by the comparable age at death of HCV positive and HCV negative patients.