Serum ferritin levels are associated with a distinct phenotype of chronic hepatitis C poorly responding to pegylated interferon-alpha and ribavirin therapy


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.

  • This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (3100A0-122447 and 31003A-138484 [to D.M.], 32003B-127613 [to P.Y.B.], as well as 3347C0-108782 and 33CSC0-108782 [to the SCCS]), the Novartis Foundation (09C53; to D.M.), the Leenaards Foundation (to P.Y.B.), and the Santos-Suarez Foundation (to P.Y.B.). C.M.L. is the recipient of a Research Fellowship from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (LA 2806/1-1).


Elevated serum ferritin levels may reflect a systemic inflammatory state as well as increased iron storage, both of which may contribute to an unfavorable outcome of chronic hepatitis C (CHC). We therefore performed a comprehensive analysis of the role of serum ferritin and its genetic determinants in the pathogenesis and treatment of CHC. To this end, serum ferritin levels at baseline of therapy with pegylated interferon-alpha and ribavirin or before biopsy were correlated with clinical and histological features of chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, including necroinflammatory activity (N = 970), fibrosis (N = 980), steatosis (N = 886), and response to treatment (N = 876). The association between high serum ferritin levels (>median) and the endpoints was assessed by logistic regression. Moreover, a candidate gene as well as a genome-wide association study of serum ferritin were performed. We found that serum ferritin ≥ the sex-specific median was one of the strongest pretreatment predictors of treatment failure (univariate P < 0.0001, odds ratio [OR] = 0.45, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.34-0.60). This association remained highly significant in a multivariate analysis (P = 0.0002, OR = 0.35, 95% CI = 0.20-0.61), with an OR comparable to that of interleukin (IL)28B genotype. When patients with the unfavorable IL28B genotypes were stratified according to high versus low ferritin levels, SVR rates differed by >30% in both HCV genotype 1- and genotype 3–infected patients (P < 0.001). Serum ferritin levels were also independently associated with severe liver fibrosis (P < 0.0001, OR = 2.67, 95% CI = 1.68-4.25) and steatosis (P = 0.002, OR = 2.29, 95% CI = 1.35-3.91), but not with necroinflammatory activity (P = 0.3). Genetic variations had only a limited impact on serum ferritin levels. Conclusion: In patients with CHC, elevated serum ferritin levels are independently associated with advanced liver fibrosis, hepatic steatosis, and poor response to interferon-alpha-based therapy. (Hepatology 2012)