HCV RNA Genomic sequences and HCV-E2 glycoprotein in sural nerve biopsies from HCV-infected patients with peripheral neuropathy

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Peripheral neuropathy (PN), the major neurological complication of chronic HCV infection, is frequently associated with mixed cryoglobulinaemia (MC) and small-vessel systemic vasculitis. While humoral and cell-mediated immune mechanisms are suspected to act together in an aberrant immune response that results in peripheral nerve damage, the role of HCV remains largely speculative. The possible demonstration of HCV in peripheral nerve tissue would obviously assume important pathogenic implications.


We studied sural nerve biopsies from 11 HCV-positive patients with neuropathic symptoms: five with and six without MC. In situ hybridization (ISH) and immunofluorescence studies were carried out to detect genomic and antigenomic HCV RNA sequences and HCV-encoded E2-glycoprotein, respectively.


Epineurial vascular deposits of E2-glycoprotein were found in four (80%) MC and in two (33.3%) non-MC patients, respectively. These findings were enhanced by the perivascular deposition of positive-, though not negative-strand replicative RNA, as also found in the nerve extracts of all patients. Mild inflammatory cell infiltrates with no deposits of immunoglobulins and/or complement proteins were revealed around small vessels, without distinct vasculitis changes between MC and non-MC patients.


These results indicate that nerve vascular HCV RNA/E2 deposits associated to perivascular inflammatory infiltrates were similar in chronically HCV-infected patients, regardless of cryoglobulin occurrence. Given the failure to demonstrate HCV productive infection in the examined sural nerve biopsies, nerve damage is likely to result from virus-triggered immune-mediated mechanisms.

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