Genetic similarity of hepatitis C virus and fibrosis progression in chronic and recurrent infection after liver transplantation


Dr Fernando González-Candelas, Institut Cavanilles de Biodiversitat i Biologia Evolutiva and Departament de Genètica, Universitat de València, Apartado Oficial 22085, 46071-València, Spain. E-mail:


Summary.  The effect of hepatitis C virus (HCV) genetic heterogeneity on clinical features of post-transplantation hepatitis C is controversial. Different regions of the HCV genome have been associated with apoptosis, fibrosis, and other pathways leading to liver damage in chronic HCV infection. Besides, differences in immunodominant regions, such as NS3, may influence HCV-specific immune responses and disease outcome. In the liver transplant setting, a recent study has reported a positive association between HCV-1b Core region genetic relatedness 5-year post-transplantation and histological severity of recurrent hepatitis C. We have compared nucleotide sequences of HCV Core, NS3 and NS5b regions in HCV-1b-infected patients 3 years post-transplantation (n = 22). A cohort of nontransplanted patients (n = 22) was used as control of natural chronic HCV-1b infection. Histological evaluation was used to define the rate of fibrosis progression. Molecular variance analysis did not show significant differences in HCV sequences between transplanted and nontransplanted patients, or between those with fast or slow fibrosis progression. The same results were obtained when analysing phylogenetic trees for Core, NS3 and NS5b regions. A more appropriate clustering method (using minimum spanning networks) revealed a significant positive relationship between HCV genetic similarity in Core (r = 0.550, P < 0.01) and NS5b regions (r = 0.847, P < 0.01) and the yearly rate of fibrosis progression in nontransplanted patients which, in contrast, was not observed in transplanted patients. Our results indicate that some strains of HCV-1b might be more pathogenic in the natural course of chronic infection by this virus subtype. In the liver transplant setting, when the immune response is severely compromised, other mechanisms are probably more important in determining hepatitis C progression.