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Keywords:

  • chronic hepatitis C;
  • cyclosporin;
  • HCV-RNA;
  • serum aminotransferase

ABSTRACT

Interferon (IFN) therapy is of proven efficacy in chronic hepatitis C, but it is not universally effective and is often limited by side effects. Cyclosporine A (CsA) is a potent immunosuppressant widely used in organ transplantation. We conducted a pilot study to determine whether CsA therapy could affect aminotransferase activity and hepatitis C virus RNA levels in patients with chronic hepatitis C. Cyclosporine A was administered to 10 patients (mean age of 59 years; male: female = 9:1) who did not respond to IFN therapy previously and who had elevated serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) values for at least 6 months. All patients were positive for HCV-RNA by RT-PCR with genotype 1b. Their mean duration of hepatitis was 15 years. Oral CsA was given for 3 months in a dose that was increased at 1 month intervals from 1.5–2.0 to 2.0–3.0 and 3.0–4.0 mg/kg per day. All patients completed the treatment schedule, although two patients developed mild non-symptomatic hypertension. Serum ALT levels gradually decreased in all but one patient. The mean percentage decrease was 59.5% at the end of therapy (from 153 ± 82 to 62 ± 48 IU/L; P < 0.02). The ALT levels fell to the normal range in five patients, although once therapy was discontinued the enzyme levels tended to return to pretreatment levels. Serum aspartate aminotransferase and g-glutamyl transpeptidase levels similarly decreased. The serum HCV-RNA titre, determined by competitive RT-PCR, did not change in any patient throughout the study period. There were no appreciable alterations in other laboratory tests, such as serum creatinine levels and lymphocyte subsets, except for an increase in serum alkaline phosphatase levels. These findings suggest that CsA, even in a relatively low dose, reduces serum aminotransferase levels without serious side effects in patients with chronic-hepatitis C, although an antiviral effect was not noted.