Cholestatic hepatitis C in liver allografts

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Abstract

Some liver allograft recipients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection develop hyperbilirubinemia, which might be the result of a cholestatic variant of hepatitis C. We evaluated all liver biopsy samples from 6 liver transplant recipients who had polymerase chain reaction–positive HCV infection and histologic evidence of hepatitis and jaundice and compared them with liver biopsy samples from a control group of transplant recipients with HCV hepatitis without jaundice. Patients with known ductopenic rejection, biliary obstruction, or co-infection with hepatitis A or B were excluded from the study. Measurement of viral titers and genomic typing were performed when possible. Six patients developed hepatitis and jaundice, with maximum bilirubin levels ranging from 5.8 to 47.6 mg/dL. In this group, 5 (83%) had moderate interface hepatitis (control group, 15%), 6 (100%) had confluent necrosis (control group, 12%), 5 (83%) had bridging fibrosis (control group, 18%), 4 (67%) had significant hepatocyte swelling (control group, 9%), 4 (67%) had prominent ductular proliferation (control group, 3%), and 6 (100%) had mild duct damage and inflammation (control group, 53%). All 6 of the patients with cholestasis had allograft failure. Of these, three allografts were available for review, which did not reveal occult obstruction, rejection, or duct loss. All patients in the control group have retained their allografts. In 4 patients with cholestasis, the median HCV RNA titer was 93.97 mEq/mL, with a mean of 54.19 mEq/mL (control mean = 5.2 mEq/mL). Five patients also underwent viral genomic typing: 2 with type 1a, 2 with type 1b, and 1 with mixed type 1a and 1b. Cholestasis in patients with posttransplantation hepatitis C may be caused by an aggressive HCV infection that exhibits histologic features of confluent necrosis, hepatocyte swelling, and/or ductular proliferation. Viral titers are often increased in such patients.

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