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Arch Virol. 1997;142(3):535-44.

Impaired response to alpha interferon in patients with an inapparent hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus coinfection.

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Institute of Internal Medicine, University of Florence, Italy.


The possibility of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in HBsAg-negative patients has been shown. However, an "inapparent" coinfection by HBV in hepatitis C virus (HCV)-positive patients generally is not taken into account in clinical practice. Mechanisms responsible for resistance to interferon (IFN) have not been completely clarified. The aim of this study was to investigate whether an "inapparent" coinfection by HBV in anti-HCV-positive chronic liver disease patients may influence IFN response. Fourteen anti-HCV positive, HBsAg-negative but serum HBV DNA-positive patients by PCR and 111 anti-HCV-positive, HBsAg-negative and HBV DNA (PCR)-negative patients with chronic hepatitis were treated with 3 MU of recombinant alpha-2a IFN 3 times weekly for 12 months. Serum HBV DNA and HCV RNA were determined before treatment, after 6-12 months and in coincidence with ALT flare-up by PCR. HBV PCR was performed using primers specific for the S region of the HBV genome and HCV PCR with primers localised in the 5'NC region of HCV genome. IgM anti-HBc was tested using IMx Core-M Abbott assay. By the end of treatment, ALT values had become normal in 4/14 HBV DNA-positive patients (28%), but all "responders" (4/4) relapsed between 2 and 5 months after therapy. All but one patient were HCV RNA-positive before treatment, 6 were also both HBV DNA and HCV RNA-positive during ALT flare-ups. In 5 patients, only HBV DNA and in 3 patients, only HCV RNA was detected when transaminase values increased. All patients remained HBsAg-negative and anti-HCV-positive. IgM anti-HBc was detected both before treatment and during ALT elevation in 3 patients and only during ALT relapse in 3 others. Of the 111 anti-HCV positive, HBsAg-negative and HBV DNA (PCR)-negative patients with chronic hepatitis, a biochemical response to IFN treatment was observed in 54% of the cases. Relapse of ALT values was observed in 47% of the cases during a follow-up of 1 year after treatment. "Inapparent" HBV/HCV coinfection may be implicated in cases of resistance to IFN treatment. In addition, HBV replication may persist in patients in whom HCV replication was inhibited by IFN treatment. The pathogenic role of HBV in liver disease was confirmed by detection of IgM anti-HBc in some cases; the appearance of these antibodies only after IFN treatment suggests that IFN may exert a selective role in favour of HBV. Further studies will show the effect of different treatment schedules. HBV DNA and/or IgM anti-HBc detection with very sensitive methods may be important both as a prognostic factor and as a tool for better understanding interviral relationships and mechanisms involved in multiple hepatitis virus infections.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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