Clinical relevance of total HCV Core antigen testing for hepatitis C monitoring and for predicting patients' response to therapy

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SUMMARY.To study the correlation between total Hepatitis C virus (HCV) Core antigen (Ag) and HCV-RNA, and to assess the proficiency of HCV Core Ag testing in monitoring and predicting virologic response during and after pegylated interferon (PEG-IFN) and ribavirin combination therapy.A total of 307 samples from treated and untreated patients were used to assess the correlation between the total HCV Core Ag test and quantitative HCV-RNA assays (Superquant, and Quantiplex branched DNA 2.0 assay). Twenty-four patients received combination therapy for 48 weeks. Blood samples were collected at day 0, and week 2, 4, 12, 24, 48 and 72 for virologic evaluation.A linear relation exists between total HCV Core Ag and HCV-RNA levels. At 3 months the positive predictive value (PPV) of response to therapy was 100% with either HCV Core Ag or HCV-RNA. For HCV Core Ag the negative predictive value (NPV) was 100% whereas for HCV-RNA the NPV was 80% (P > 0.05). At month 1, the PPV was 95% and 100% when determined by HCV Core Ag and HCV-RNA, respectively. The NPV value was 100% for HCV Core Ag and 33% for HCV-RNA (P = 0.005).HCV Core Ag quantification could be useful in clinical practice to predict a sustained virological response early during therapy (4 weeks), reaching an optimal performance at month 3. The determination of total HCV Core Ag levels in serum, constitutes an accurate and reliable alternative to HCV-RNA for monitoring and predicting treatment outcome in patients receiving PEG-IFN/Ribavirin combination therapy.

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