Gut 60:837-845 doi:10.1136/gut.2010.217166
  • Hepatology

Predicting spontaneous clearance of acute hepatitis C virus in a large cohort of HIV-1-infected men

Open Access
  1. Peter Karayiannis1
  1. 1Department of Hepatology, Wright-Fleming Institute, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, London, UK
  2. 2Nuffield Department of Medicine, Peter Medawar Building for Pathogen Research, University of Oxford, UK
  3. 3Department of Infectious Diseases, Jefferiss Research Trust Laboratories, Wright-Fleming Institute, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, London, UK
  4. 4Statistical Advisory Service, South Kensington Campus, Imperial College London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Emma Thomson, Department of Hepatology, 2nd Floor, Wright-Fleming Institute, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, Praed Street, London W2 1PG, UK; e.thomson{at}
  • Revised 13 September 2010
  • Accepted 12 October 2010
  • Published Online First 7 December 2010


Objective An epidemic of acute hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in HIV-positive men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) is emerging in Europe, Australia and the USA. The aim of this study was to characterise the natural history of primary HCV in this setting and to assess host and viral factors which predict spontaneous clearance.

Methods This prospective longitudinal cohort study was carried out in 112 HIV-positive patients who were followed in a single centre (the St Mary's Acute HCV Cohort). Plasma and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were obtained at monthly intervals for 3 months and at 3-monthly intervals thereafter for a median of 45 months (IQR=29–69 months). The primary end point was spontaneous clearance of HCV. Cox regression was used to assess the impact of clinical and virological variables on outcome, including liver function, CD4 count, rate of HCV RNA decline, T cell response and clonal sequence evolution within the HCV E2 envelope gene.

Results 15% of patients cleared HCV spontaneously, while 85% progressed towards chronicity. The latter group included a significant proportion of ‘fluctuating’ progressors (37.5%), in whom a fall followed by a rise (>1 log10) in viraemia was observed. This was associated with superinfection with new HCV strains and partially effective T cell responses. Spontaneous clearance was strongly associated with a 2.2 log10 viral load drop within 100 days of infection (HR=1.78; p<0.0001), elevated bilirubin (≥40 μmol/l; HR=5.04; p=0.006), elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT; ≥1000 IU/ml; HR=2.62; p=0.048) and baseline CD4 count ≥650×106/l (HR=2.66; p=0.045), and only occurred in patients with genotype 1 infection. Evolution to spontaneous clearance occurred in patients with low viral diversity in the presence of an early multispecific T cell response.

Conclusions Spontaneous clearance of acute HCV in HIV-positive men can be predicted by a rapid decline in viral load, high CD4 count, elevated bilirubin and ALT, and is associated with low viral diversity and strong T cell responses.


  • Funding This research was supported by a clinical research training fellowship from the Wellcome Trust (ECT), the Mason Medical Foundation and the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Riverside Research Ethics Committee, Charing Cross Hospital, London, UK.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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