Cerebral microglial activation in patients with hepatitis c: in vivo evidence of neuroinflammation


Dr VPB Grover, Liver Unit, Department of Medicine, 10th Floor QEQM Wing, St Mary’s Hospital, Imperial College London, Praed Street, W2 1NY London, UK. E-mail: bob.grover@imperial.ac.uk


Summary.  Patients with chronic hepatitis C infection may exhibit neuropsychological symptoms and cognitive impairment. Post-mortem studies of hepatitis C virus HCV quasispecies and replicative intermediates indicate that the brain might act as a separate compartment for viral replication and microglia may be the locus for infection and subsequent neuroinflammatory activity. We sought to use two independent in vivo imaging techniques to determine evidence of neuroinflammation in patients with histologically mild chronic hepatitis C. Using positron emission tomography (PET) with a ligand for microglial/brain macrophage activation, 11C-(R)-PK11195 (PK11195) and cerebral proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, we determined whether there was evidence of neuroinflammation in a pilot study of 11 patients with biopsy-proven mild chronic hepatitis C, compared to healthy volunteers. Patients were characterized by cognitive testing and the fatigue impact scale to assess for CNS impairment. PK11195 binding potential was significantly increased in the caudate nucleus of patients, compared to normal controls (P = 0.03). The caudate and thalamic binding potential were more significantly increased in six patients with genotype 1 infection (P = 0.007) and positively correlated with viraemia (r = 0.77, P = 0.005). Basal ganglia myo-inositol/creatine and choline/creatine ratios were also significantly elevated in patients with chronic hepatitis C compared to normal controls (P = 0.0004 and P = 0.01, respectively). Using PET, we demonstrated evidence of microglial activation, which positively correlated with HCV viraemia and altered cerebral metabolism in the brains of patients with mild hepatitis C. This provides further in vivo evidence for a neurotropic role for HCV.