Detection of hepatitis C virus in the bile and bile duct epithelial cells of hepatitis C virus–Infected patients



The pathobiology of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the biliary system has not been clarified yet, although bile duct damage is a histological finding characteristic of chronic hepatitis C. In this study, we examined whether HCV infects bile ducts and is released into the bile. Twelve patients positive for serum HCV antibody were examined in this study, and eight were seropositive for HCV RNA by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). For those who underwent abdominal surgery, the bile was aspirated from the gall bladders by fine needle puncture. Five underwent wedge liver biopsy. Series of saline-diluted bile were assayed for HCV RNA by PCR to determine the HCV RNA titers. To examine HCV expression in the biliary system, the liver specimens were immunostained using monoclonal antibodies to the HCV proteins. HCV RNA was detected in the bile of 5 patients with high serum HCV RNA load (≥2.5 Meq/mL). Comparison of viral loads between serum and bile revealed that the HCV RNA level in the bile was as high as that in serum. Furthermore, immunohistological study showed that bile duct epithelial cells were infected with HCV. In contrast, HCV was not found in either the bile or bile duct of patients seronegative for HCV RNA or with low serum HCV load (≤1.1 Meq/mL). These findings suggest that the biliary system is involved in the pathobiology of HCV and that the bile is as highly infectious as the serum. (HEPATOLOGY 2001;33;977-980.)