To clarify the viral factors that may predict the therapeutic effect of interferon (IFN) in chronic hepatitis C (CHC) patients, we investigated the quantitative serum hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA level, genotype, and liver biopsy histological features in 60 patients who were treated with 360 x 10(6) U of natural IFN-alpha for 36 to 48 weeks and for more than 12 months after therapy. A branched DNA (bDNA) assay was used to measure HCV RNA levels. All responders, defined as those individuals with normal alanine transaminase (ALT) levels at 48 weeks after therapy, had less than 2 x 10(6) HCV RNA Eq/mL before administration of IFN. Of 39 patients with RNA levels (less than 2 x 10(6) Eq/L) 23 (59.0%) were responders. The genotype was determined for each patient using type-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers. There was a significant difference in rate of response between subtype 1b and subtypes 2a and 2b (P < .0002); however, all responders had less than 2 x 10(6) Eq/L independent of genotype. In a multivariate analysis, RNA level was the most statistically significant factor affecting response to IFN. Although disease severity, as defined by histological features, was not statistically correlated with nonresponse, patients that responded to IFN tended to have less severe disease.