Abstract: Background: This study investigates the correlation of hepatic progenitor cells (HPC) expression with treatment response in patients with chronic hepatitis C.
Design: The study comprised 77 liver biopsies with chronic hepatitis C (HCV). All patients were PCR-HCV (+) and received antiviral therapy with interferon or pegylated interferon α-2b and ribavirin. Twenty-nine patients were assigned as responders (group A), 29 as nonresponders (group B) and 19 as relapsers (group C). Ten normal liver biopsies were used as controls. Liver paraffin sections were subjected (a) to immunohistochemistry using antibodies for cytokeratins 19 (CK19) and 7 (CK7), α-fetoprotein (AFP), leukocyte common antigen (LCA) and CD34 antigen (b) to in situ hybridization for AFP mRNA and (c) to immunohistochemistry+in situ hybridization. Results were expressed as % of positive cells following morphometric analysis.
Results: HPC expression was present in all 87 specimens. In the control biopsies, rare HPC were detected. In the CH cases and according to AFP mRNA expression, the grade for % HPC expression was: group B: 53.2±2.6> group C: 48.37±1.8> group A: 31.4±1.6 (group A vs B P<0.01, group A vs C P<0.01, group B vs C P>0.05. Double stain revealed that HPC coexpressed CK19/AFP mRNA, CK7/AFP mRNa and AFP protein/AFP mRNA. HPC-percentages were directly correlated with total HAI score (P<0.01), fibrosis stage (P<0.01), and transaminase values (P<0.05).
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that in cases of chronic hepatitis C, the significant association of HPC expression with the severity of disease and more specifically with the response to treatment implies that HPC development and proliferation may provide additional prognostic information and predict prognosis in such cases.