Hepatitis C Virus Compartmentalization and Infection Recurrence after Liver Transplantation


* Corresponding author: Sofia Perez-del-Pulgar, sofiapp@clinic.ub.es


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) compartmentalization may have important implications in the pathogenesis of HCV infection. The aim of this study was to investigate the presence and relevance of HCV compartmentalization in the setting of liver transplantation (LT). We collected samples of serum, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), perihepatic lymph nodes (PLN) and liver explant at the time of LT, and serum and PBMC after transplantation from 57 HCV-infected cirrhotic patients undergoing LT: 38 individuals received antiviral treatment before LT and 19 were untreated controls. HCV-RNA levels were determined by real-time PCR and the hypervariable region 1 (HVR-1) was sequenced. HCV-RNA was detected in all samples from control patients. In virological responders, recurrence after LT was associated with residual HCV-RNA in the liver explant. Within the entire cohort, 47% of patients harbored differences in direct sequences from distinct compartments. Quasispecies analysis revealed that in most cases, HVR-1 sequences recovered after infection recurrence were identical or closely related to those isolated from the liver explant and serum at the time of LT. Our study shows that a significant proportion of HCV-infected cirrhotic patients exhibit compartmentalization. Viral variants originating within the liver appear to be the main cause of HCV recurrence after LT.