Correlation of histology, viral load, and in situ detection in hepatic biopsies from patients with liver transplants secondary to hepatitis C infection
The diagnosis of hepatitis C infection in the setting of liver transplantation in based on several variables, including histopathologic changes and the presence of viral RNA in the serum. It may be difficult to differentiate acute rejection from recurrent viral hepatitis in liver biopsies from patients who received liver transplants for end-stage hepatitis C infection. The purpose of this study was to analyzed the histologic features, viral load, and in situ viral detection in 37 biopsies taken from 25 people who underwent liver transplant for end-stage hepatitis C infection. Hepatitis C antigen was detected in 9 of 37 (24%) biopsies using immunohistochemistry; the detection rate increased to 19 of 37 (51%) using reverse transcriptase in situ polymerase chain reaction for viral cDNA. Hepatitis E cDNA was detected in 4 of 37 (11%) cases, hepatitis G cDNA in 3 of 37 (8%) cases and in 1 case cytomegalovirus was noted; with several cases of dual infection, 22 of 37 (59%) of tissues were positive for at least 1 virus. Histologic parameters that significantly correlated with in situ viral detection included single-cell hepatocyte necrosis (P = 0.02), bile duct damage (P = 0.03), lymphoid aggregates (P = 0.02), and cholestasis (P = 0.01). Further, a serum viral load exceeding 1,250,000 viral equivalents/ml was strongly correlated with in situ viral detection in the liver (P = 0.01). We conclude that certain histologic features and an increased viral load are highly correlated with the in situ detection of viral RNA in the liver, which is consistent with recurrent viral infection.
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