Background. Although hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is common in renal transplant candidates, its clinical significance remains unclear in this population. Little detailed information is available about the histological severity of HCV infection in these patients. We evaluated the liver biopsy features of chronic HCV in a large population of renal transplant candidates and investigated associations between histopathological changes and host- and virus-related factors. Methods. Thirty-seven patients seropositive for anti-HCV with chronic renal failure (CRF) referred to UCLA Medical Center for kidney or kidney/liver transplantation during the period 1992-1997 were included. HCV genotype and viral load were measured. A multi- variate analysis by logistic regression model was performed: age, gender, race, HCV load and genotype, CRF level, aspartate and alanine aminotransferase activity, duration of HCV infection, underlying nephropathy, and alcohol abuse were independent variables; liver histology score was assumed a dependent variable. Results. Liver disease was present in all HCV- infected patients. Logistic regression analysis revealed that histological damage was (P=0.0017) independently associated with the CRF level; the severity of liver disease, as shown by univariate analysis, being significantly higher in CRF patients not requiring dialysis than among dialysis population. All patients on dialysis showed mild or moderate necroinflammatory activity; the majority (22/28=79%) of these individuals had fibrosis, three (3/28=11%) dialysis patients had established cirrhosis. Thirty-one (84%) of 37 patients were tested by polymerase chain reaction, 25 (81%) patients had detectable HCV RNA in serum, the mean HCV load among viremic patients was 10.9x105 copies/ml. The most frequent HCV genotypes were 1a (8/24=33%) and 1b (7/24=29%), followed by genotype 2b (3/24=12%). Conclusions. Pathological changes on liver biopsy were observed in all HCV- infected patients awaiting renal transplantation. The severity of histologic damage observed on liver biopsy was less in dialysis than predialysis CRF patients. All dialysis patients had mild or moderate necroinflammatory activity; fibrosis was frequent with 11% of them having cirrhosis. The HCV viral load was rather low; no relationship between liver histology changes and virological features of HCV or aminotransferase activity was apparent. Further studies with repeat liver biopsies after kidney transplantation to observe the evolution of HCV-related liver disease after immunosuppressive therapy are indicated. We suggest including liver biopsy in the evaluation of the HCV-infected renal transplant candidate.
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