Background/aims: Host factors such as increased body mass index (BMI) and genotype-specific viral factors contribute to the development of steatosis in patients with chronic hepatitis C (HCV). We hypothesized that host metabolic factors associated with increased BMI may play a role in disease progression.
Methods: Fasting serum was collected from 160 patients with chronic HCV at the time of liver biopsy and 45 age, gender and BMI matched controls, and assessed for levels of insulin, c-peptide and leptin.
Results: Patients with viral genotype 3 had more severe steatosis (P=0.0001) and developed stages 1 and 2 fibrosis at a younger age (P<0.05) than patients with genotype 1. For both genotypes, overweight patients had significantly more steatosis and increased insulin and leptin levels. In contrast to lean patients, there was a statistically significant increase in circulating insulin levels with increasing fibrosis in overweight patients with chronic HCV (P=0.03). Following multivariate analysis, insulin was independently associated with fibrosis (P=0.046) but not inflammation (P=0.83). There was no association between serum leptin levels and stage of fibrosis.
Conclusions: Increasing circulating insulin levels may be a factor responsible for the association between BMI and fibrosis in patients with HCV, irrespective of viral genotype.