Objective: In patients chronically infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) undergoing antiviral therapy, sustained virologic response is suggested by viral clearance by end of treatment (EOT). Viral clearance is defined by nondetection of serum HCV RNA, usually by qualitative PCR-based assays with limits of detection ranging from 100 to 1000 copies/ml. However, some individuals relapse after achieving apparent viral clearance by EOT. These individuals may have low levels of viremia not detected by current PCR methods. The aim of this retrospective study was to determine whether the Bayer HCV RNA Qualitative Assay, which employs Transcription Mediated Amplification (TMA) and detects 50 HCV RNA copies/ml, could detect residual serum HCV RNA in patients who achieved apparent viral clearance by EOT and subsequently relapsed.
Methods: Samples were obtained at EOT (wk 24 or 48) and follow-up (wk 24-26 posttreatment) from 97 patients treated for HCV (78 relapsing patients, 19 sustained responders). All samples in which HCV RNA was not detected by PCR were tested in a blinded manner for HCV RNA by the TMA-based assay.
Results: HCV RNA was detected by the TMA-based assay in 27 (34.6%) EOT and 76 (97.4%) follow-up samples from relapsing patients, but not in any of the EOT or follow-up samples from sustained responders.
Conclusion: Residual serum HCV RNA was detected by the TMA-based assay in EOT samples from 34.6% of patients that had achieved apparent viral clearance by PCR. The detection of HCV RNA by the TMA-based assay could help redefine EOT response and assist in the antiviral management of HCV infection.