Background and Aim: Carriage of the apolipoprotein E (Apo E) variants, E2, E3 and E4, affects cholesterol metabolism and may be involved in the persistence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Our aim was to verify whether carriage of specific Apo E variants modulates the course of hepatitis C.
Methods: We studied a cohort of 116 HCV-positive patients (49 male subjects) with persistently normal transaminases and an Ishak staging score ≤ 2 at an initial biopsy. These untreated patients underwent regular clinical monitoring (median histological follow up: 10 years). Apo E variants were genotyped and results were related to the histological outcome.
Results: The mean ± standard deviation staging scores were 0.9 ± 0.7 at entry versus 1.9 ± 1.2 at the end of follow up, P < 0.0001. Initial and final staging scores in the E3/E3 homozygotes (n = 74) were 1.0 ± 0.7 versus 2.1 ± 1.3, P < 0.0001, while in the remaining patients (n = 42) they were 0.9 ± 0.6 versus 1.5 ± 1.0, P < 0.002. A synergistic effect was observed between Apo E polymorphisms and baseline serum cholesterol values: patients not carrying any E3 allele, as well as carriers of a single E3 allele with serum cholesterol concentration > 190 mg/dL were more likely to have a favorable outcome (final vs initial staging score increased in 7/66, did not change in 10/46, and decreased in 3/4, P < 0.005).
Conclusions: Some of the variability in the natural history of patients with persistently normal transaminases with initially mild hepatitis C can be related to their Apo E genetic background.