Heterozygosity for hereditary hemochromatosis is associated with more fibrosis in chronic hepatitis C



Hepatic iron has been associated with more aggressive liver disease in chronic viral hepatitis. We evaluated whether the recently described C282Y mutation of the hemochromatosis gene, designated HFE (responsible for at least 83% of hereditary hemochromatosis), was associated with more advanced liver disease in chronic hepatitis C. One hundred thirty-seven patients with biopsy-proven chronic hepatitis C were studied and liver biopsies scored for necroinflammation (grade 0-18) and fibrosis (stage 0-6). Genomic DNA was amplified by polymerase chain reaction and the C282Y mutation identified by restriction with RsaI and electrophoretic separation of restriction fragments. Ten (7.3%) patients had the C282Y mutation. No C282Y homozygous patients were identified. Age, sex distribution, and estimated weekly alcohol consumption were not significantly different between those with and without the mutation. Serum ferritin was higher in the heterozygotes (mean, 339 μg/L) compared with homozygous wild types (153 μg/L; P = .0005). In the majority of patients, liver iron was graded 0 out of 4, but hepatocyte iron staining was more commonly present in heterozygotes compared with homozygous normals (30% compared with 4% [P = .02]). Liver disease was more advanced in those with the mutant allele (mean fibrosis stage: 3.6, compared with wild type: 1.5 [P = .01]). Cirrhosis was found more often in those with the mutation (40%) compared with those without (8.7%) (P = .01; odds ratio: 7.6 [1.9-31.2]). There was no significant difference in inflammation scores between heterozygotes and wild type (mean, 5.4 compared with 4.1). Hepatitis C virus (HCV)-RNA titers were measured by branched DNA assay (HCV RNA 2.0-Chiron), and there was no difference between heterozygous and homozygous normal patients. Thus, despite relatively minor increases in iron stores, individuals who are heterozygous for hemochromatosis appear to develop more fibrosis in chronic hepatitis C. Venesection may be useful therapy in this subgroup.