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Abstract

The present study was conducted to evaluate the relationship between biochemical, virological, and histological response during the course of interferon therapy. Ninety consecutive patients with well-documented chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) were treated with 5 MU of interferon alfa-2b three times weekly for 6 months. Liver biopsy was performed, and serum HCV RNA titer was measured before and at the completion of interferon treatment. Normalization of serum alanine transaminase (ALT) concentration (biochemical response) was observed in 50% of patients. In these patients, Knodell score declined significantly from 9.6 ± 0.5 to 5.0 ± 0.5 (P < .01), and 75% became HCV RNA negative. The remaining patients (50%) were biochemical nonresponders; mean Knodell score declined from 9.6 ± 0.5 to 7.7 ± 0.5 (P < .01), and 11% became HCV RNA negative. For both biochemical responders and nonresponders, the decline in Knodell score was confined to the components of hepatic inflammation (piecemeal necrosis + lobular + portal inflammation); no change in fibrosis was observed. Hepatic inflammation declined by 5 points or more in 69% of biochemical responders and 48% of biochemical nonresponders, and by at least 50% from pretreatment values in 74% and 38% of biochemical responders and biochemical nonresponders, respectively. For all patients (both biochemical responders and nonresponders) who remained viremic at the conclusion of interferon therapy, the reduction in hepatic inflammation was a linear function of the decline in HCV RNA titer. We conclude that more than one third of patients who had no biochemical response after 6 months of interferon therapy achieved a similar improvement in hepatic histology as was observed in patients with biochemical response. This improvement in hepatic histology appeared to correlate with a reduction in HCV RNA titer, especially in patients who remained viremic.