Detection of hepatitis C virus RNA in the liver by in situ hybridization


Second Department of Medicine, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, 5–45 Yushima 1-chome, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113, Japan


ABSTRACT— To examine HCV infection histologically, we attempted nonradioactive in situ hybridization of HCV-RNA in the liver. We amplified cDNA probe (360 base pairs) by PCR using the primers deduced from the core region of the HCV genome. The probe was labelled with digoxigenin by PCR and used for in situ hybridization on paraformaldehyde-fixed frozen liver sections. The hybrids were visualized immunohistochemically with alkaline-phosphatase-conjugated anti-digoxigenin and alkaline-phosphatase substrates. HCV-RNA-cDNA hybrids were detected in 21 of 24 patients with positive serum HCV markers, whereas there were no positive signals in the liver of 12 cases without HCV infection. The signal intensity of HCV-RNA-cDNA hybrids was abolished after RNase treatment. Various other specificity experiments also verified specific hybridization of HCV-RNA-cDNA. HCV-RNA was visualized in liver cells and most of them were regarded as hepatocytes from their characteristic features. The infected hepatocytes were frequently associated with mononuclear cell infiltration. Hepatocytes positive for HCV-RNA were sometimes binuclear and distributed in various patterns among cases tested. The present in situ hybridization of HCV RNA is highly sensitive and specific and the results suggest the host immune response to HCV-infected cells.