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J Hepatol. 1997 Jun;26(6):1187-99.

The effect of interferon on the liver in chronic hepatitis C: a quantitative evaluation of histology by meta-analysis.

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Istituto di Metodologie Diagnostiche Avanzate, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, University of Palermo, Italy.



Several randomized clinical trials of interferon in chronic hepatitis C have examined the histological changes in paired biopsy specimens. We have attempted a quantitative evaluation by meta-analysis.


Randomized Clinical Trials found by MEDLINE search were included if: a) they compared different IFN regimens with non-active treatment or with each other, b) they obtained biopsies before starting and at the time of stopping IFN in a sizable proportion of the treated and control patients, and c) they assessed the biopsy-specimens semi-quantitatively according to Scheuer's numerical scoring system or Knodell's Histological Activity Index, with quantitation of fibrosis and of lobular, portal and periportal necroinflammation.


Seventeen trials were identified, in which 1223 adult patients had been studied. All trials homogeneously pointed towards a favorable interferon effect. The pooled data show a statistically significant histological improvement in treated patients as compared with controls for each of the four Histological Activity Index components and for the total Histological Activity Index score (overall improvement was -0.82 in favor of interferon, p<0.0001, 95% Confidence Interval -1.25 to -0.40). In the ten trials reporting histological changes separately in biochemical responders (primary and sustained responders) and non-responders, histological improvement was confined to the subset of biochemical responders. No change or very little change occurred in non-responders.


Interferon treatment in chronic hepatitis C significantly improves liver histology. The effect of interferon is closely related to biochemical response. Studies assessing histological outcome 1 year or more after interferon treatment in long-term responders and comparatively in non-responders or relapsers would be important to confirm the regression of the necroinflammatory process in the former, as suggested by the normal serum alanine aminotransferase levels.

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