In this study we examined multiple serial liver biopsy specimens from liver transplant recipients to determine the pathological features of hepatitis C virus—induced hepatitis. Hepatitis C virus infections acquired after transplantation and previous infections that recurred in patients after transplantation were confirmed by the results of the polymerase chain reaction. Of 43 patients infected with the hepatitis C virus, 18 had a mild form of chronic hepatitis. Four patients had hepatitis that progressed to focal bridging fibrosis or cirrhosis. There were no significant clinical or pathological differences between infections acquired after transplantation and recurrent infections (as determined by polymerase chain reaction) except that acquired infections more often developed into hepatitis. Findings indicative of hepatitis C infection included portal and parenchymal mononuclear infiltrates of varying degrees, acidophilic necrosis and swollen hepatocytes. Other common findings included lymphoid aggregates, bile duct damage and fatty change. Atypical pathological conditions included extensive hepatocyte swelling or acidophilic necrosis with minimal inflammation mimicking ischemia and ductal or ductular damage and proliferation with mixed portal infiltrates mimicking rejection or obstruction. We conclude that in transplant recipients infection by the hepatitis C virus usually produces a mild disease state, but the diagnosis of hepatitis can be difficult to make because indicators of hepatitis may mimic those of rejection, ischemia, obstruction or other hepatic infections. Serial biopsy specimens with persistent pathology and polymerase chain reaction may be necessary to define the presence of a hepatitis C virus lesion. (HEPATOLOGY 1992;16:865–876.)
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