Achieving sustained virologic response after interferon-free hepatitis C virus treatment correlates with hepatic interferon gene expression changes independent of cirrhosis

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SUMMARY.Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection can now be treated with oral directly acting antiviral agents, either with or without ribavirin (RBV). Virologic relapse after treatment can occur, and in some studies was more common in cirrhotic subjects. We previously observed changes in hepatic immunity during interferon (IFN)-free therapy that correlated with favourable outcome in subjects with early liver disease. Here, we compared changes in endogenous IFN pathways during IFN-free, RBV-free therapy between cirrhotic and noncirrhotic subjects. mRNA and microRNA (miRNA) expression analyses were performed on paired pre- and post-treatment liver biopsies from genotype-1 HCV subjects treated with sofosbuvir/ledipasvir (SOF/LDV) for 12 weeks (n = 4, 3 cirrhotics) or SOF/LDV combined with GS-9669 or GS-9451 for 6 weeks (n = 6, 0 cirrhotics). Nine of ten subjects achieved a sustained virologic response (SVR), while one noncirrhotic subject relapsed. Hepatic IFN-stimulated gene expression decreased with treatment in the liver of all subjects, with no observable impact of cirrhosis. Hepatic gene expression of type III IFNs (IFNL1, IFNL3, IFNL4-ΔG) similarly decreased with treatment, while IFNA2 expression, undetectable in all subjects pretreatment, was detected post-treatment in three subjects who achieved a SVR. Only the subject who relapsed had detectable IFNL4-ΔG expression in post-treatment liver. Other IFNs had no change in gene expression (IFNG, IFNB1, IFNA5) or could not be detected. Although expression of multiple hepatic miRNAs changed with treatment, many miRNAs previously implicated in HCV replication and IFN signalling had unchanged expression. In conclusion, favourable treatment outcome during IFN-free HCV therapy is associated with changes in the host IFN response regardless of cirrhosis.

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