Thirty to 40% of patients with chronic hepatitis C have persistently normal alanine aminotransferase (PNALT). Even though traditionally considered as healthy people, most PNALT carriers actually have some degree of clinical progression and histological liver damage. We evaluated the clinical and histological outcome of a 17-year follow-up on a cohort of patients with chronic HCV infection and PNALT. Between 1994 and 2011, 70 PNALTs and 55 Hyper-alanine aminotransferase (ALT) subjects underwent a clinical, biochemical, virological and histological follow-up. At the end of the follow-up, all patients were alive. In the PNALT group, none of the patients developed hepatic decompensation, while 14.5% of Hyper-ALTs were diagnosed as affected by decompensated cirrhosis. No significant variation of the Metavir grading and staging scores was observed among PNALTs by comparing pre- and post-follow-up liver specimens. On the contrary, a significant increase in both Metavir grading and staging scores was noticed within the Hyper-ALT group. Finally, the analysis of IL28B single-nucleotide polymorphism rs12979860 revealed no difference between Hyper-ALTs and PNALTs in terms of frequency of C/C genotype. In conclusion, progression of chronic hepatitis C among PNALTs is slow or even absent, because at the end of the 17-year follow-up histological and clinical parameters had not worsened significantly.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.