Serum IFN-λ3 Levels Correlate with Serum Hepatitis C Virus RNA Levels in Symptomatic Patients with Acute Hepatitis C

Dig Dis. 2017;35(6):531-540. doi: 10.1159/000480143. Epub 2017 Oct 17.


Background: Recent genome-wide association studies demonstrated that 2 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), upstream of the interferon-λ (IFNL) 3 gene, are associated with the spontaneous clearance of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in symptomatic patients with acute hepatitis C (AHC). Although these 2 SNPs, rs8099917 and rs12979860, have established their significant roles in the innate immunity response to spontaneously clear HCV in patients with AHC, the detailed mechanisms of their roles remain largely unknown.

Aim: This study is aimed at clarifying the factors affecting IFNL3 production and assessing the roles of IFNL3 in AHC.

Materials and methods: A total of 21 AHC patients who visited the hospital within 10 days after symptom onset were assessed. As controls, 23 healthy volunteers (HVs) were examined. Serum IFNL3 levels were quantified using an in-house, IFNL3-specific chemiluminescence enzyme immunoassay (CLEIA) kit. Serum IFNL1, IFN-α, IFN-β, and IFN-γ induced protein-10 (IP-10) levels were assayed using commercial enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) kits.

Results: At baseline, serum IFNL3 levels were higher in AHC patients than in HVs (p < 0.0001). The higher levels in AHC patients did not differ between patients with the rs8099917 TT genotype and those with the non-TT (TG/GG) genotype (p = 0.546). Serial measurement of serum IFNL3 levels did not predict the outcome of conventional AHC. However, serum IFNL3 levels at baseline correlated positively with the HCV RNA levels (p = 0.005). Following HCV eradication, serum IFNL3 levels reduced to within the range obtained for HVs. Baseline serum IFNL1 levels did not differ significantly between AHC patients and HVs (p = 0.284). Serum levels of IFNL1 and IFNL3 at baseline also showed no correlative power (p = 0.288). Serum IFN-α and IFN-β were detected together with remarkably high serum IFNL3 levels in only one patient who progressed to acute liver failure (ALF).

Conclusion: These findings indicate that serum IFNL3 levels at baseline are higher in AHC patients regardless of the rs8099917 polymorphism, and primary HCV infection triggers the production of IFNL3. As a first line of defense in the innate immune system against invading HCV, increased IFNL3 levels play an important role, but serum IFNL3 levels are not the principal determinant of the clinical course of conventional AHC.

Keywords: Hepatitis C virus; Interferon-α; Interferon-β; Interferon-λ3; Single nucleotide polymorphism rs8099917; Spontaneous hepatitis C virus clearance; Symptomatic acute hepatitis C.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Genotype
  • Hepacivirus / genetics*
  • Hepatitis C / blood*
  • Hepatitis C / virology*
  • Humans
  • Interferon-alpha / blood
  • Interferon-beta / blood
  • Interferons
  • Interleukins / blood*
  • Interleukins / genetics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • RNA, Viral / blood*


  • IFNL3 protein, human
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Interleukins
  • RNA, Viral
  • Interferon-beta
  • Interferons