HLA class II genes in chronic hepatitis C virus-infection and associated immunological disorders



To investigate the factors that may confer susceptibility or protection to hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and to HCV-associated immunological disorders, we designed two studies on 420 Sardinian transfusion-dependent thalassemia patients followed in our department in Cagliari since 1974. The first one was an epidemiological survey aimed to evaluate the prevalence of HCV infection and HCV-associated immunological disorders. In the second study, the distribution of different HLA class II genes was examined by DNA analysis in 116 HCV positive patients, 30 HCV negative patients, and 606 healthy controls. Three hundred fourteen patients became infected with HCV (74.7%) after 5.6 ± 2.8 years of regular transfusion program. Mixed cryoglobulinemia, purpura, arthritis, proteinuria, decreased complement levels, rheumatoid factor and anti-GOR, smooth muscle antibody (SMA), anti-nuclear antibody (ANA), and liver, kidney microsome (LKM) autoantibodies were significantly more represented in HCV positive patients than in negative ones (P < .05). A significant increase of HLA class II DR2 subtype (DRB1*1601,DQB1*0502) was observed in a group of 30 HCV negative patients who despite 10.3 ± 2.2 years in a regular blood transfusion program did not show any evidence of HCV infection (Pc < .0092). Our results represent clear evidence for a relationship between HCV infection and immune extrahepatic abnormalities. A gene(s) located in the human major histocompatibility complex (MHC) region may play an important role in conferring protection against HCV infection.