Functional pathway analysis of genes associated with response to treatment for chronic hepatitis C

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SUMMARY.Chronic hepatitis C (CH-C) is among the most common causes of chronic liver disease. Approximately 50% of patients with CH-C treated with pegylated interferon-α and ribavirin (PEG-IFN-α + RBV) achieve a sustained virological response (SVR). Several factors such as genotype 1, African American (AA) race, obesity and the absence of an early virological response (EVR) are associated with low SVR. This study elucidates molecular pathways deregulated in patients with CH-C with negative predictors of response to antiviral therapy. Sixty-eight patients with CH-C who underwent a full course of treatment with PEG-IFN-α + RBV were included in the study. Pretreatment blood samples were collected in PAXgene™ RNA tubes. EVR, complete EVR (cEVR), and SVR rates were 76%, 57% and 41%, respectively. Total RNA was extracted from pretreatment peripheral blood mononuclear cells, quantified and used for one-step RT-PCR to profile 154 mRNAs. The expression of mRNAs was normalized with six ‘housekeeping’ genes. Differentially expressed genes were separated into up and downregulated gene lists according to the presence or absence of a risk factor and subjected to KEGG Pathway Painter which allows high-throughput visualization of the pathway-specific changes in expression profiles. The genes were consolidated into the networks associated with known predictors of response. Before treatment, various genes associated with core components of the JAK/STAT pathway were activated in the cohorts least likely to achieve SVR. Genes related to focal adhesion and TGF-β pathways were activated in some patients with negative predictors of response. Pathway-centred analysis of gene expression profiles from treated patients with CH-C points to the Janus kinase-signal transducers and activators of transcription signalling cascade as the major pathogenetic component responsible for not achieving SVR. In addition, focal adhesion and TGF-β pathways are associated with some predictors of response.

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