Biopsy Specimens From Allograft Liver Contain Histologic Features of Hepatitis C Virus Infection After Virus Eradication

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Abstract

Background & Aims

Most patients, even those who have received a liver transplant, achieve a sustained virologic response (SVR) to therapy for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Little is known about the histologic features of liver biopsy specimens collected after SVR, particularly in patients who have received a liver transplant. We aimed to better characterize the histologic features of allograft liver biopsy specimens from patients who achieved SVR to anti-HCV therapy after liver transplantation.

Methods

We performed a retrospective analysis of 170 allograft liver biopsy specimens from 36 patients who received a liver transplant for chronic HCV infection, had recurrent HCV infection after transplantation, and subsequently achieved SVR (collected from 1999 through 2015 at 4 medical centers). SVR was defined as an undetectable serum HCV RNA level 24 weeks after completion of HCV treatment. A total of 65 biopsy specimens were post-SVR (at least 1 post-SVR from each patient; some biopsy specimens were collected at later time points from a subset of patients). We performed polymerase chain reaction analysis for HCV RNA on a subset of the biopsy specimens (28 collected before SVR and 32 after SVR).

Results

Of the 65 post-SVR biopsy specimens, 45 (69%) had histologic features of active HCV infection. Of the initial post-SVR biopsy specimens collected from each of the 36 patients, 32 (89%) showed these changes. For patients with more than 1 post-SVR biopsy specimen, 6 (46%) had no change in fibrosis between biopsies, and fibrosis worsened for 3 patients (23%) based on their most recent biopsy. The HCV RNA level was undetectable in 31 of the 32 biopsy specimens analyzed by polymerase chain reaction.

Conclusions

In a retrospective analysis of allograft liver biopsy specimens from patients who achieved SVR after a liver transplant for chronic HCV infection, histologic changes associated with active HCV were present in 69% and fibrosis continued to progress in 23%, despite the lack of detection of HCV RNA. Pathologists should be aware of patients’ SVR status when analyzing liver biopsy specimens to avoid diagnoses of chronic HCV-associated hepatitis. Because of the persistent inflammatory activity and fibrosis after SVR, clinicians should continue to monitor patients carefully after SVR to anti-HCV therapy.

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