Mononuclear cells can be infected in vitro by hepatitis C virus and the viral RNA can be detected in mononuclear cells of chronically infected patients. It was suggested that the virus could persist in the mononuclear cells of some patients treated by interferon. The aim of this study was to follow the presence of viral RNA in the plasma and peripheral blood mononuclear cells of 16 chronically infected patients treated by alpha2b interferon for 1 year. The RNA was detected by reverse transcription followed by nested PCR and quantified using the branched DNA method at regular intervals for at least one year. Before PCR, the mononuclear cells were treated by RNase and trypsin in order to eliminate the viral particles that could be stuck at the cell surface. Six patients were non responders and had persistent plasmatic viral RNA during the treatment. Two patients were good responders and had persistantly negative PCR in both plasma and mononuclear cells. Eight patients had initial negativation of plasmatic hepatitis C virus RNA but showed a relapse characterized by positive plasmatic PCR. Positive PCR in mononuclear cells despite negativity of plasmatic PCR was noted 18 times in 8 patients. Persistently positive PCR in mononuclear cells in absence of detectable viraemia was followed by a virological relapse in 5 of these patients. This study confirms that hepatitis C virus RNA can be detected in mononuclear cells despite negative plasmatic PCR in patients treated by interferon. Moreover, the persistence of viral RNA in peripheral mononuclear cells could be a predictive factor of treatment failure. Our data also suggest that detection of viral RNA in mononuclear cells is probably not only due to passive virus adsorption from plasma.
Archives of Virology – Springer Journals
Published: Feb 1, 1999
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