Immunoglobulin M antibody to hepatitis C virus core antigen: Correlations with viral replication, histological activity, and liver disease outcome



Immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibody to hepatitis C core antigen (anti-HCV-core) was tested by enzyme immunoassay against a synthetic peptide representing amino acids 1 to 62 of the core protein. Of 214 patients with different categories of histological activity, 193 (90%) showed positive results for IgM anti-HCV-core, and 207 (97%) had HCV RNA; most cases (186, 87%) had both markers detectable simultaneously. No differences in the frequency of IgM anti-HCV-core were observed with respect to epidemiological, biochemical, or histological parameters. In 175 interferon alfa (IFN-α) recipients, and in 39 untreated controls, pretreatment IgM anti-HCV-core frequencies were similar: 28 of 32 (88%) in sustained responders; 55 of 61 (90%) in responders with relapse; 72 of 82 (88%) in nonresponders; and 38 of 39 (97%) in untreated controls. After IFN-α therapy, IgM anti-HCV-core levels became undetectable with significantly greater frequency in sustained responders (P = .014); a similar trend was observed for HCV RNA (P < .0001). IgM anti-HCV-core levels decreased after therapy in responders (P < .001) but increased in nonresponders. Fifty-one cases were longitudinally tested in relation to long-term disease outcome. Both markers remained detectable in most nonresponders with persistent liver disease, in most responders before relapse, and in all but one case at the time of biochemical relapse. IgM anti-HCV-core and HCV RNA became undetectable in most sustained responders, but reappeared despite a long-lasting transaminase normalization, behaving as asymptomatic HCV carriers; the possibility that disease reactivation may take place years afterwards cannot be excluded. These data indicate that IgM anti-HCV-core may be useful in the assessment of HCV replication and in monitoring biochemical and virological responses to IFN-α treatment. (Hepatology 1995; 22:1635-1640).