The study of hepatitis C virus (HCV) kinetics after liver transplantation (LT) might be important to design strategies to prevent HCV infection of the graft. We analyzed HCV kinetics during and immediately after LT in 20 consecutive patients undergoing LT for HCV-related cirrhosis. HCV RNA was quantified in blood samples obtained at regular intervals before, during, and after transplantation. HCV-RNA concentrations decreased in 18 of 20 patients during the anhepatic phase (mean decay slope −0.92, mean HCV elimination half-life 2.2 hours). We found a significant correlation between the HCV viral load decay and the blood loss during the anhepatic phase, indicating that the observed HCV clearance rates are maximum estimates. In fact, in 1 patient with an unusually long anhepatic phase of 20 hours and with minimum blood loss, the HCV elimination half-life was 10.3 hours. Eight to 24 hours after graft reperfusion a sharp decrease in HCV viral load occurred in 19 patients (mean decay slope −0.34, mean HCV elimination half-life 3.44 hours). HCV RNA became undetectable in only 1 patient. During the following days, HCV-RNA concentrations increased rapidly in 10 patients (mean HCV doubling time 13.8 hours), remained at similar levels in 4, and continued to decrease in 6. The only variable associated with a second-phase viral load decay was the absence of corticosteroids as part of the immunosuppressive regimen. In conclusion, a sharp decrease in HCV viral load occurs during the anhepatic phase and immediately after graft reperfusion, most likely owing to a lack of virion production and hepatic viral clearance. HCV infection of the graft, however, is an extremely dynamic process and viral replication begins a few hours after LT. (HEPATOLOGY 2002;35:680-687.)
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