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J Clin Virol. 2005 Feb;32(2):92-101.

The role of core antigen detection in management of hepatitis C: a critical review.

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Medical Faculty, Institute of Microbiology and Immunology, Zaloska 4, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia.


Several assays in research format and two commercial assays for the detection of hepatitis C virus (HCV) core protein or HCV core antigen have been developed in recent years. In order to elucidate the role and significance of HCV core antigen detection in the diagnosis and management of hepatitis C, we reviewed 56 studies published in peer-reviewed journals until September 2004. Evaluations in transfusion settings showed that the HCV core antigen assay detects HCV infection, similarly as nucleic acid techniques (NAT), between 40 and 50 days earlier than the current third generation HCV antibody screening assays. HCV core antigen levels closely track HCV RNA dynamics, and allow clinical monitoring of a patient's therapy, independently of HCV genotype, however, mainly in the samples with HCV RNA levels above 20,000 IU/ml. Considering the lower sensitivity of HCV core antigen detection in comparison to NAT, the HCV core antigen assay is not practical for the determination of the end of treatment response and sustained viral response, but could be useful for the determination of early viral response in the pegylated interferon-alpha and ribavirin treated patients infected with HCV genotype 1. The HCV core antigen detection is a viable tool for study of hepatitis C pathogenesis. The HCV core antigen can be used as a marker of HCV replication in anti-HCV positive individuals in the areas of the world that cannot afford NAT and/or in the settings that are not equipped or competent to perform HCV RNA testing. Because the manufacturer of HCV core antigen assays recently stopped an active marketing of these assays in several countries, it will, unfortunately and probably, never be possible to determine the actual potential and usefulness of HCV core antigen testing in the management of hepatitis C.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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