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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1992 Mar 15;89(6):2247-51.

Detection of intrahepatic replication of hepatitis C virus RNA by in situ hybridization and comparison with histopathology.

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Department of Gastroenterology, Ospedale Molinette, Turin, Italy.


A nonisotopic in situ hybridization (NISH) assay was used to detect hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA. A synthetic oligonucleotide complementary to bases 252-301 of the highly conserved 5' noncoding region of the HCV genome was end-labeled by terminal deoxynucleotidyltransferase using digoxigenin-conjugated dUTP. The hybridized oligomer was revealed by an immunohistochemical reaction after incubation with an alkaline phosphatase-conjugated anti-digoxigenin antibody and subsequent amplification with a complex of alkaline phosphatase and anti-alkaline phosphatase antibodies. The intracellular distribution of HCV RNA was monitored in the livers of two chimpanzees experimentally infected with the H strain of HCV and compared with the serum alanine aminotransferase activity, serum HCV RNA, and liver histopathology. Most cells were stained in the cytoplasm as early as 2 days after inoculation, 1 and 2 days, respectively, before the appearance of viral RNA in the serum. The time course of HCV RNA replication was correlated with increases in serum alanine aminotransferase. However, neither one paralleled the appearance of liver cell necrosis nor showed any correlation with the inflammatory response. The NISH signal was not found in liver biopsy specimens taken from these two animals before inoculation with HCV, from chimpanzees with acute hepatitis type A, B, or delta, or from two animals never experimentally infected with any hepatitis agent; moreover, it disappeared when the positive specimens were predigested with RNase and it was not observed after hybridization of positive controls with a labeled oligomer unrelated to HCV RNA. Thus, detection of liver HCV RNA by NISH is a sensitive and specific method for studying HCV replication at the cellular level. Intracellular replication of HCV did not appear to be associated with histopathologic changes in the liver, although the correlation with increases of liver enzyme activity in the serum suggested possible damage to the liver cell membrane.

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