To optimize treatment of chronic hepatitis C early identification of patients who will not achieve a sustained virological response (SVR) is desirable. We investigated hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA kinetics at day 1 (in 15 patients; genotypes 1 and non-1, 9 and 6 respectively) at weeks 1, 4 and 12 (in 53 patients; genotypes 1 and non-1, 19 and 34, respectively) during treatment with pegylated interferon alpha-2a and ribavirin. Patients with SVR had a significantly more pronounced mean log10 decline from baseline in HCV RNA levels at weeks 1 and 4 compared with patients who failed to achieve SVR (1.99 vs 0.85 at week 1, P = 0.0003 and 2.89 vs 1.72 at week 4, P = 0.0159), whereas no difference was noted after day 1. For patients with a 2-log10 decrease in HCV RNA levels at day 7, the positive predictive value (PPV) for a SVR was 92%, whereas week 12 was the best time point for predicting a later nonresponse [negative predictive value (NPV) 92%] in patients failing to achieve a 2-log10 drop. For patients with genotype non-1 and a 2-log10 decrease in HCV RNA levels the PPV for a SVR was 89% week 1, and 79% weeks 4 and 12. The corresponding NPV for patients with genotype non-1 were 43, 40 and 100% respectively. During treatment with pegylated interferon alpha-2a plus ribavirin the HCV RNA decline at week 1 was an accurate predictor of SVR in patients who had achieved a 2-log10 drop in HCV RNA levels, whereas the lack of such decline week 12 was an accurate marker of a nonresponse.