GB virus C (GBV-C) infection in patients with chronic hepatitis C. Influence on liver disease and on hepatitis virus behaviour: effect of interferon alfa therapy

J M Pawlotsky, F Roudot-Thoraval, A S Muerhoff, M Pellerin, G Germanidis, S M Desai, A Bastie, F Darthuy, J Rémiré, E S Zafrani, C J Soussy, I K Mushahwar, D Dhumeaux
Journal of Medical Virology 1998, 54 (1): 26-37
The aim of this study was to evaluate, in patients with chronic hepatitis C, 1) the prevalence and the epidemiological characteristics of GB virus C (GBV-C) infection, 2) the influence of GBV-C on hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, 3) the pathogenicity of GBV-C in the absence of treatment and under interferon therapy, and 4) the effect of interferon alfa on GBV-C and HCV replications. One hundred fifteen patients with chronic hepatitis C were studied. Before treatment, they were tested for GBV-C RNA by PCR and GBV-C genotype was determined for positive samples. Pretreatment information was collected, including age, gender, source of HCV, estimated duration of HCV infection, alanine aminotransferase and gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase activities, cirrhosis and Knodell's score on liver biopsy, HCV genotype, HCV viral burden and anti-HCV core IgM antibodies. The genetic complexity of the hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) of HCV was studied by PCR-Single Strand Conformation Polymorphism. All patients were treated with 3 to 9 mega units of interferon alfa-2a three times per week for 3 to 6 months. The influence of GBV-C on the evolution of ALT and HCV replication during and after treatment was studied, and GBV-C and HCV RNA were monitored monthly by PCR during this period. Eighteen patients (16%) were GBV-C RNA-positive. Among 11 samples studied, GBV-C genotype 2a was present in 9 cases, 2b in one case and type 3 in one case. GBV-C RNA-positive patients were significantly younger than GBV-C RNA-negative ones (38.4 +/- 11.5 vs. 47.4 +/- 14.0, P = 0.012), a result independent of the route of transmission and the disease duration. No difference between GBV-C RNA-positive and -negative patients was found for other epidemiological parameters (e.g. gender, risk factor for parenteral viral infections, disease duration and HCV genotypes), or for the characteristics of HCV infection and related liver disease (e.g. HCV RNA level, genetic complexity of the HVR1, anti-HCV core IgM, alanine aminotransferase and gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase activities, cirrhosis and Knodell's score). GBV-C did not influence the rates of ALT normalization at months 3, 6 and 12 and of sustained hepatitis C virological response at month 12 of treatment follow-up. During treatment, GBV-C viremia became undetectable in 12 patients (67%) but relapse occurred after treatment withdrawal in all the nine patients with sufficient follow-up. In the remaining six patients (33%), GBV-C resisted interferon. Whatever the effect of interferon on GBV-C replication, the ALT levels correlated with the presence of HCV RNA. In conclusion, GBV-C infection is frequent in patients with chronic hepatitis C, who are mainly, but not exclusively, infected by GBV-C genotype 2a. GBV-C positive patients are significantly younger than GBV-C negative ones. GBV-C does not seem to affect HCV replication, liver disease and responses of HCV infection and liver disease to interferon therapy. GBV-C is sensitive to 3 mega units of interferon alfa administered three times per week in two-thirds of the patients, but relapse is constant with this dosage after treatment withdrawal.

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