Viral recurrence is universal after transplantation for hepatitis C infection. This may lead to difficulties in differentiating allograft dysfunction caused by chronic rejection from hepatitis C virus (HCV) recurrence. Cases of severe cholestatic hepatitis have also been reported in conjunction with reinfection of the graft with HCV. Patients receiving transplants for HCV-related liver disease were studied before and after transplantation by HCV RNA quantitation of serial serum samples. Four major clinical patterns of HCV recurrence could be distinguished posttransplantation: group 1, asymptomatic hepatitis with no significant symptoms; group 2, cholestatic hepatitis with centrilobular ballooning; group 3, hepatitis leading to chronic allograft rejection; and group 4, persistently normal serum aminotransferase levels. Pretransplantation viral load was shown to be an important indicator of disease severity because the group 2 patients had significantly higher pretransplantation viral loads than patients in group 1 (P = 0.01) and group 4 (P = 0.005). The group 2 patients also had persistently significantly higher posttransplantation viral loads than the patients in group 1 (P = 0.01) and group 4 (P = 0.02), whereas patients who developed chronic allograft rejection showed marked decreases in serum HCV RNA before retransplantation. Patients from group 4 had the lowest viral loads after transplantation. These results show that persisting graft cholestasis due to HCV is associated with persistently high HCV RNA levels compared with other etiologies of graft dysfunction. Prospective studies are needed to determine whether such quantitation may be diagnostically helpful in distinguishing the different patterns of HCV-related graft dysfunction observed after liver transplantation.