Aim: To determine whether hepatitis C virus (HCV) core substitutions play a role in the response to interferon-based treatment in Caucasian patients.
Methods: One hundred eight HCV chronically infected patients initiating treatment with pegylated IFN plus ribavirin for 48 wk were tested for baseline substitutions at codons 70 and 91 of the viral core protein (BigDye Terminator vers.3.1, Applied Biosystems,) and for genetic polymorphisms in host IL28B gene rs12979860 (Custom TaqMan 5' allelic discrimination assay; Applied Biosystems).
Results: Of the patients, all were infected with HCV genotype 1b, 44.4% had low baseline HCV viral load, and 37.9% had mild/moderate fibrosis. Only 38.9% achieved therapeutic success, defined as sustained virological response (SVR). Eighty-eight percent of the patients presented at least one substitution at core position 70 (R70Q/H) or/and position 91 (L91M). The favorable IL28B CC polymorphism was detected in only 17.6% of the patients. In the univariate analysis, young age (P < 0.001), urban residence (P = 0.004), IL28B CC genotype (P < 0.001), absence of core mutations (P = 0.005), achievement of rapid virologic response (P < 0.001) and early virological response (P < 0.001) were significantly correlated with SVR. A multivariate analysis revealed three independent predictors of therapeutic success: young age (P < 0.001), absence of core substitutions (P = 0.04) and IL28B CC genotype (P < 0.001); the model correctly classified 75.9% of SVR cases with a positive predictive value of 80.7%.
Conclusion: HCV core mutations can help distinguish between patients who can still benefit from the affordable IFN-based therapy from those who must be treated with DAAs to prevent the evolution towards end-stage liver disease.
Keywords: Caucasian patients; Chronic hepatitis C; Core substitutions; IL28B polymorphism; Treatment.