SUMMARY. A recently available assay to quantify serum viral load in hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection has been used to evaluate the effects of anti-viral therapies. However, variability in HCV RNA levels in untreated patients with HCV infection has not yet been established. We therefore prospectively measured the biological fluctuations of HCV RNA in sera from untreated patients with chronic HCV infection. Sera were collected from seven patients at 8 am and 4 pm on the same day to assess the effect of diurnal variation, daily for 5 days in a further 10 patients, biweekly for 6 weeks in nine patients and monthly for 3 months in 11 patients. All patients had biopsy-proven chronic liver disease with elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) values and had not received anti-viral treatment. HCV RNA was measured blinded, in duplicate, using the quantitative branched (bDNA) amplification assay (Quantiplex™ HCV RNA. Chiron Co. Erneryville. CA) 36 of the 37 patients studied had measurable HCV RNA throughout the study. There was no significant correlation between HCV RNA levels and ALT values or histological activity. HCV RNA levels did not appear to vary significantly within any of the groups studied and there did not appear to be a change associated with diurnal variation. All individual patients demonstrated less than a threefold fluctuation in HCV RNA throughout the study period. Hence HCV RNA levels remain relatively stable in untreated individuals with chronic HCV infection. Changes of a magnitude of threefold (0.5 log) or greater in HCV RNA levels were not observed in untreated patients.