SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Abstract

Patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection frequently report fatigue, lassitude, depression, and a perceived inability to function effectively. Several studies have shown that patients exhibit low quality-of-life scores that are independent of disease severity. We therefore considered whether HCV infection has a direct effect on the central nervous system, resulting in cognitive and cerebral metabolite abnormalities. Twenty-seven viremic patients with biopsy-proven mild hepatitis due to HCV and 16 patients with cleared HCV were tested with a computer-based cognitive assessment battery and also completed depression, fatigue, and quality-of-life questionnaires. The HCV-infected patients were impaired on more cognitive tasks than the HCV-cleared group (mean [SD]: HCV-infected, 2.15 [1.56]; HCV-cleared, 1.06 [1.24]; P = .02). A factor analysis showed impairments in power of concentration and speed of working memory, independent of a history of intravenous drug usage (IVDU), depression, fatigue, or symptom severity. A subgroup of 17 HCV-infected patients also underwent cerebral proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS). The choline/creatine ratio was elevated in the basal ganglia and white matter in this group. Patients who were impaired on 2 or more tasks in the battery had a higher mean choline/creatine ratio compared with the unimpaired patients. In conclusion, these preliminary results demonstrate cognitive impairment that is unaccounted for by depression, fatigue, or a history of IVDU in patients with histologically mild HCV infection. The findings on MRS suggest that a biological cause underlies this abnormality.