Hepatitis C virus replicates in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of patients with occult hepatitis C virus infection
- I Castillo,
- E Rodríguez-Iñigo,
- J Bartolomé,
- S de Lucas,
- N Ortíz-Movilla,
- J M López-Alcorocho,
- M Pardo,
- V Carreño
- Correspondence to:
Dr V Carreño
Fundación para el Estudio de las Hepatitis Virales, Guzmán el Bueno, 72, 28015 Madrid, Spain;
- Accepted 14 January 2005
- Revised 21 December 2004
Background: Occult hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is characterised by the presence of HCV-RNA in the liver in the absence of anti-HCV, and serum viral RNA. Up to 70% of these patients also have HCV-RNA in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) but it is not known if HCV is replicating in these cells.
Aim: We studied possible HCV replication in PBMC of 18 patients with an occult HCV infection who were selected on the basis of HCV-RNA positivity in PBMC.
Methods: Detection of HCV-RNA positive and negative strands in PBMC was done by strand specific reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and by in situ hybridisation.
Results: The presence of HCV-RNA positive strand in PBMC was confirmed in all patients by strand specific RT-PCR and by in situ hybridisation. Mean percentage of PBMC which had the HCV-RNA positive strand was 3.3% (95% confidence interval (CI) 2.1–4.4) The HCV-RNA negative strand was found in the PBMC of 11/18 (61%) patients by strand specific RT-PCR and confirmed by in situ hybridisation, and the percentage of PBMC harbouring the HCV-RNA negative strand was 3.1% (95% CI 0.8–5.5). There was a significant correlation (p = 0.001, r = 0.84) between the percentage of PBMC with the HCV-RNA positive strand and that of PBMC with the HCV-RNA negative strand.
Conclusion: HCV replicates in the PBMC of patients with occult HCV infection and thus, although these patients do not have serum HCV-RNA, they could be potentially infectious.
- FISH, fluorescent in situ hybridisation
- HCV, hepatitis C virus
- AST, aspartate aminotransferase
- ALT, alanine aminotransferase
- GGTP, gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase
- PBMC, peripheral blood mononuclear cells
- RT-PCR, reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction
Conflict of interest: None declared.