25 May 2001
Background: α-Interferon-2a (IFNα) alone is a therapy of limited proven benefit for non-uremic patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. In dialyzed patients, such an effect is suggested on small short-term studies without sufficient clinical and virologic follow-up to document any sustained effect. Protocol: Twelve chronically hemodialyzed patients with chronic hepatitis C and waiting for renal transplantation were included in a prospective open study of treatment with IFNα. We used, as did others, doses of 3 million units (MU), three times a week, but for a longer period of treatment of 12 months. Follow-up was continued for 6 months after the end of IFNα in order to document any sustained biochemical, virological and histological responses. Results: Aminotransferase levels returned to the normal range within 1–2 months of treatment in all patients in whom they had been elevated at baseline. At 1 month of treatment, serum HCV-RNA was not detected in 5 (41%) patients and in 9 (75%) at 12 months. A sustained virological response was documented in 4 (33%) patients 6 months after the end of treatment. Relapse occurred in 5 patients within 2 months after IFNα withdrawal. HCV genotype was not predictive of any sustained response. At inclusion, using the histologic Metavir scoring system, half of the patients had low-grade cytolytic activity and none had cirrhosis. After IFNα, liver biopsy specimens were available from 9 patients and showed histologic improvement in 3. IFNα tolerance was poor, inducing a 5% mean weight loss and the acute rejection of two nonfunctioning kidney grafts. Conclusion: This study documents that administration of IFNα at 3 MU three times a week, for 12 months, in hemodialysis patients with chronic hepatitis C was efficient for clearing the serum of HCV-RNA in 75% of the patients. A sustained response was maintained in one third of these patients after cessation of IFNα, and was predicted by the early serum clearance of the virus within the first 2 months of treatment. We confirm that a 12-month treatment period carries a higher sustained response rate than shorter treatment periods. These encouraging results call for larger studies in uremic patients, using IFNα alone or in association with new antiviral drugs.