Objective: We sought to evaluate the relationship between HCV RNA levels in serum, liver, and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and the degree of liver injury in chronic hepatitis C (CHC) patients.
Methods: Thirty-six consecutive CHC patients were included in the study. The liver damage was evaluated by the histological activity index (HAI) score. The HCV RNA levels in the three compartments studied were assessed by bDNA assay. Nineteen patients were treated with alpha-interferon 2b (IFN).
Results: Serum and liver HCV RNA levels in CHC patients were significantly associated with an increasing HAI score irrespective of the HCV genotypes. Cirrhotic patients showed higher HCV RNA levels than the CHC patients with HAI score 1-4 (p < 0.05), but had lower levels than the group with HAI score > 8 (p < 0.03). Patients with HAI score 1-4 showed the lowest levels of HCV RNA in PBMC. There was a strong relation (r = 0.78; p < 0.001) between serum and liver HCV RNA levels, but not between either serum or liver HCV RNA levels and those of PBMC. Seven patients showed a response to IFN and three of these had a sustained response. Pretreatment levels of HCV RNA in PBMC of the IFN responder patients were lower than those of the nonresponder patients (p < 0.02).
Conclusions: The data indicate a relation between serum or liver HCV RNA levels and the degree of liver injury in CHC patients, and show that serum HCV RNA level mirrors the hepatic viral burden.