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Keywords:

  • chronic hepatitis C infection;
  • fibrosis;
  • gene expression;
  • genotype 3;
  • steatosis

Abstract

Background: Hepatic steatosis occurs in 40–70% of patients chronically infected with hepatitis C virus [chronic hepatitis C (CH-C)]. Hepatic steatosis in CH-C is associated with progressive liver disease and a low response rate to antiviral therapy.

Aim: Gene expression profiles were examined in CH-C patients with and without hepatic steatosis, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and fibrosis.

Methods: This study included 65 CH-C patients who were not receiving antiviral treatment. Total RNA was extracted from peripheral blood mononuclear cells, quantified and used for one-step reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction to profile 153 mRNAs that were normalized with six ‘housekeeping’ genes and a reference RNA. Multiple regression and stepwise selection assessed differences in gene expression and the models' performances were evaluated.

Results: Models predicting the grade of hepatic steatosis in patients with CH-C genotype 3 involved two genes: SOCS1 and IFITM1, which progressively changed their expression level with the increasing grade of steatosis. On the other hand, models predicting hepatic steatosis in non-genotype 3 patients highlighted MIP-1 cytokine encoding genes: CCL3 and CCL4 as well as IFNAR and PRKRIR. Expression levels of PRKRIR and SMAD3 differentiated patients with and without superimposed NASH only in the non-genotype 3 cohort (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve=0.822, P-value 0.006]. Gene expression signatures related to hepatic fibrosis were not genotype specific.

Conclusions: Gene expression might predict moderate to severe hepatic steatosis, NASH and fibrosis in patients with CH-C, providing potential insights into the pathogenesis of hepatic steatosis and fibrosis in these patients.