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J Hepatol. 1998 Jul;29(1):29-35.

Effect of ribavirin on virus load and quasispecies distribution in patients infected with hepatitis C virus.

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  • 1Medizinische Klinik II, Klinikum der Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universit├Ąt, Frankfurt a.M., Germany.



The combination of ribavirin and interferon alfa has potent synergistic effects in the treatment of chronic hepatitis C. The antiviral mechanism of ribavirin is unknown. We investigated whether a transient initial antiviral effect of ribavirin was sufficient to improve the response to interferon.


Fifteen HCV-infected patients (ten male, five female; mean age 45.4+/-11.0 years) treated with ribavirin (1000-1200 mg) and 17 untreated patients with chronic hepatitis C (11 male, six female; mean age 45.6+/-9.9 years) were investigated. All patients were either non-responders to (n=19) or relapsed after (n=13) previous interferon treatment. Serum HCV-RNA concentrations and HCV quasispecies distribution were serially measured over 4 weeks by quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis, respectively.


In six of the 15 patients treated with ribavirin, but in none of the controls, serum alanine aminotransferase levels declined by at least 30%. Pretreatment HCV-RNA levels ranged from 5.0x10(5)-5.0x10(7) copies/ml. After initiation of ribavirin treatment, minor (0.5-1.0 log) or no changes (<0.5 log) in total hepatitis C viremia were observed in ten and five patients, respectively. In HCV-infected patients without treatment 7/17 patients had minor and 10/17 no changes in viremia. Polymerase chain reaction amplification of the hypervariable region-1 of HCV was successful in 13/15 treated and in 17/17 untreated patients. Changes in HCV quasispecies according to the single-strand conformation polymorphism band pattern occurred in only one patient treated with ribavirin and in three of the untreated patients.


Ribavirin monotherapy has no initial antiviral effect on total hepatitis C viremia nor on HCV quasispecies. Unlike the rapid emergence of antiviral drug-resistant strains in HIV-infected patients, no viral escape phenomena are observed in HCV-infected patients treated with ribavirin.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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