Objectives: The objectives of this study are to determine the frequency of hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA persistence in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) of HIV-positive patients with clearance of the virus from serum and to identify the presence of any ongoing replication.
Design: This is a prospective cross-sectional study.
Methods: HIV antibody-positive individuals with previous exposure to HCV, but not current infection with HCV, were recruited. Blood was taken to allow identification of HCV RNA in both serum and PBMCs. Intracellular HCV was extracted using the QIAamp RNA Blood MiniKit. Reverse transcriptase-PCR was performed using a modification of the COBAS TaqMan HCV Test for use with the high pure system.
Results: Twenty-six HIV-positive individuals were recruited to the study. All had previously been infected with HCV. Six individuals had spontaneously cleared HCV, 10 had achieved sustained virological response following 24 weeks of pegylated interferon and ribavirin for acute HCV, and 10 had achieved sustained virological response following standard pegylated interferon and ribavirin therapy for chronic HCV. None demonstrated HCV RNA persistence in either serum or PBMCs.
Conclusion: Our findings lend support to the view that clearance of HCV RNA from serum in HIV/HCV coinfection indicates eradication from PBMCs. Thus, absence of serum HCV RNA 6 months after the end of therapy can be used as a marker of treatment success for interferon-based therapies. However, the advent of small molecule HCV inhibitors may require us to rethink our definitions of response and cure.