Sensitivity to antiviral therapy may change after liver transplantation in patients with chronic hepatitis C virus infection

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In hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected patients, it is generally assumed that the pattern of response to antiviral therapy remains unaltered after liver transplantation (LT). However, changes in the circulating HCV quasispecies and in the gene expression profiles of the graft might influence response to treatment after LT. We evaluated 22 HCV-infected patients who received antiviral treatment while awaiting LT and in whom HCV infection recurred. Eleven of these patients underwent a new antiviral treatment course. Our study analyses the early virological response to both treatment courses to assess the influence of the changes in HCV on the response to therapy. Patients were considered early virological responders (EVR) if viral load declined ≥2log10 during the first 12 weeks of therapy. The remaining individuals were considered nonresponders (NR). HCV sequences from hypervariable region 1 and nonstructural 5A (NS5A) region before both treatment regimens were compared. Of 11 patients, 8 (73%) showed identical early response to both courses of therapy (group A: five EVR-EVR, three NR-NR). Interestingly, the response changed in three patients (27%) (group B): two NR became EVR after transplantation, whereas one EVR became NR. Fixation of mutations within the NS5A occurred preferentially in group B (100%) compared with group A (37%)(P = 0.12). However, the number of fixed mutations was not significantly different between groups, suggesting that the changes in sensitivity to therapy after LT are not exclusively dependent on variations in HCV strains. In conclusion, in HCV-infected patients undergoing LT, the pattern of response to antiviral treatment may change after transplantation, and this possibility needs to be incorporated in clinical practice.

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