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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e45392. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0045392. Epub 2012 Sep 24.

Longitudinal study of a human drug-induced model of autoantibody to cytoplasmic rods/rings following HCV therapy with ribavirin and interferon-α.

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Rheumatology Division, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil.



A novel pattern in the indirect immunofluorescence antinuclear antibody assay on HEp-2 cells (IIF-HEp-2) characterized by cytoplasmic rods and rings (RR) was reported in HCV patients, but stringent disease specificity studies and longitudinal analysis are lacking. We investigated the clinical significance of anti-RR in an HCV cohort with up to a 12-month treatment follow up.


597 patients (342 HCV, 55 HCV/HIV, 200 non-HCV) were screened and titered for anti-RR. Serial samples were available from 78 of 176 treated and 27 of 166 untreated patients. Anti-RR was detected in 14.1% of 342 HCV patients, 9.1% of 55 HCV/HIV, 3.4% of 29 Hepatitis B, and none of 171 non-HCV (p<0.0001; HCV versus non-HCV). Anti-RR was present in 38% of 108 patients receiving interferon-α/ribavirin, but none in 26 receiving either interferon-α or ribavirin, or 166 untreated patients (p<0.0001). Other IIF-HEp-2 patterns were more frequently associated with interferon-α treatment alone (52.2%) as compared to interferon-α/ribavirin (25%), ribavirin alone (33.3%), and no therapy (26.5%). Anti-RR frequency was not associated with sex, age, ethnicity, HCV genotype or viral load. Anti-RR occurred only after initiation of treatment, beginning as early as 1 month (6%), but by the sixth month >47% tested positive for anti-RR. The anti-RR titer generally increased with sustained treatment and remained high in 53% of patients. After treatment, anti-RR titer was negative in 41%. Non-responders to HCV therapy were 77% in anti-RR-positive versus 64% in anti-RR-negative patients. Response to treatment was not associated with anti-RR titer or the dynamics of anti-RR reactivity during and after treatment.


The exquisite association of anti-RR reactivity with combined interferon-α/ribavirin therapy in HCV patients represents a unique model for drug-induced autoantibody generation in humans as demonstrated by the fact that a significant fraction of patients who have anti-RR during therapy becomes anti-RR-negative after completion of therapy.

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