Background: End-stage cirrhosis related to hepatitic C virus (HCV) is a common reason for liver transplantation, although viremia ia known to persist in most cases. We investigated the impact of persistent HCV infection after liver transplantation on patient and graft survival and the effects of the HCV genotype and the degree of HLA matching between donor and recipient on the severity of recurrent hepatitis.
Methods: A group of 149 patients with HCV infection who received liver transplants between January 1982 and April 1994 were followed for a median of 36 months; 623 patients without HCV infection who underwent liver transplantation for end-stage chronic liver disease were used as a control group. A total of 528 liver-biopsy specimens from the HCV-infected recipients were reviewed, including 82 obtained one year after transplantation as scheduled and 39 obtained at five years as scheduled. In addition, biopsy specimens were obtained from 91 of the HCV-negative patients five years after transplantation.
Results: Cumulative survival rates for the 149 patients with HCV infection were 79 percent after one year, 74 percent after three years, and 70 percent after five years, as compared with rates of 75 percent, 71 percent, and 69 percent, respectively, in the HCV-negative transplant recipients (P=0.12). Of the 130 patients with hepatitis C infection who survived more than 6 months after transplantation, 15 (12 percent) had no evidence of chronic hepatitis on their most recent liver biopsy (median followup, 20 months), 70 (54 percent) had mild chronic hepatitis (median, 35 months), 35 (27 percent) had moderate chronic hepatitis (median, 35 months), and 10 (8 percent) had cirrhosis (median, 51 months). Graft loss occurred after a median of 303 days in 27 of the 149 patients, including 5 with HCV-related cirrhosis and 3 with HCV-related cholestatic hepatitis. Infection with HCV genotype 1b was associated with more severe graft injury, whereas the primary immunosuppressive regimen used and the extent of HLA mismatching between donors and recipients had no significant effect on this variable.
Conclusions: After liver transplantation for HCV-related cirrhosis, persistent HCV infection can cause severe graft damage, and such damage is more frequent in patients infected with HCV genotype 1b than with other genotypes. After five years, the rates of graft and overall survival are similar between patients with and those without HCV infection.