Extrahepatic sites capable of supporting hepatitis C virus (HCV) replication have been suggested. We analyzed the influence of virological factors such as viral genotype and viral load, and cellular factors such as cell phenotype, on the detection rate of HCV sequences in hematopoietic cells of infected patients. Thirty-eight chronically infected patients were included in the study: 19 infected by genotype 1 isolates (1a and 1b), 13 by nongenotype 1 isolates (including genotypes 2 a/c, 3a, and 4), and 6 coinfected by genotype 1 and 6 isolates. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) detection efficiency of viral genomic sequences, both the positive and negative strand RNA, was evaluated using RNA transcripts derived from genotype 1, 2, 3, and 4 cloned sequences and found to be equivalent within one log unit. The serum viral load, ranging from less than 2 × 105 Eq/mL to 161 × 105 Eq/mL, did not influence the detection rate of either strand of RNA in patients' peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). Positive and negative strand RNA were found in PBMCs of all 3 cohorts of patients with a detection rate ranging from 15% to 100% and from 8% to 83.3% for the positive and negative strand RNA, respectively. Coinfected patients showed a detection rate in all cases greater than 80%. Patients infected with genotype 1 isolates showed a higher detection rate of either strands of RNA when compared with patients infected with other genotypes (P < .001 andP < .04). Both strands were found restricted to polymorphonuclear leukocytes, monocytes/macrophages, and B (but not T) lymphocytes. These data show that HCV genomic sequences, possibly reflecting viral replication, can be detected in PBMCs of chronically infected patients independent of the viral load and that specific associated cell subsets are implicated in the harboring of such sequences.

  • Submitted July 21, 1997.
  • Accepted December 31, 1997.
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