Hepatitis C virus (HCV) recurrence after orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) is common, although the majority of cases are mild. A subset of transplant recipients develops progressive allograft injury, including cirrhosis and allograft failure. Minimal data are available on the safety and efficacy of antiviral treatment in this group of patients. The aim of this study is to review our experience in the treatment of moderate to severe HCV recurrence with combination interferon-α2b and ribavirin (IFN/RIB). Between October 1993 and October 1999, a total of 197 patients underwent OLT for HCV-related liver failure. This study describes 12 transplant recipients with moderate to severe recurrence treated with IFN/RIB. All patients met at least 1 of the following inclusion criteria: (1) moderate to severe inflammation (grade III to IV) on allograft biopsy, (2) bridging fibrosis on allograft biopsy, or (3) severe cholestasis attributable solely to HCV recurrence. Two patients had undergone re-OLT for allograft cirrhosis secondary to HCV recurrence and now had evidence of progressive HCV in their second allografts. Appropriate dose reductions of both IFN and RIB, as well as initiation of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF), for marked leukopenia were recorded. IFN/RIB therapy was started 60 to 647 days post-OLT, and duration of therapy ranged from 39 to 515 days. Seven patients were administered G-CSF to successfully treat leukopenia. Six of the 12 patients (50%) became HCV RNA negative by polymerase chain reaction. One of these 6 patients (no. 1) was HCV RNA negative at 6 months but chose to discontinue therapy because of intolerable side effects, experienced a relapse, and was HCV RNA positive at 12 months. Two of the remaining 5 patients were HCV RNA negative at 2 and 9 months off therapy. For the entire group, there was a statistically significant decrease in serum biochemical indices assessed at initiation of therapy and 1, 3, and 6 months into therapy. Most patients required dose reductions of both IFN and RIB. Five patients died; 3 patients died of liver-related complications that included severe intrahepatic biliary cholestasis, severe HCV recurrence, and chronic rejection with profound cholestasis. In the subset of HCV-positive liver transplant recipients with moderate to severe recurrence, combination IFN/RIB therapy resulted in complete virological response (serum RNA negative) in 6 of 12 patients (∼50%). However, only 1 of 12 patients (8.3%) had sustained virological clearance after cessation of IFN/RIB therapy. Dose reductions of both IFN and RIB were required in most patients. The use of G-CSF (sometimes preemptively) allowed correction of leukopenia and full-dose antiviral therapy. Multicenter trials using combination therapy to identify factors predictive of response are needed in the subset of patients with progressive allograft injury.
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