Objectives: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a serious health problem that causes chronic infection in up to 85% of cases. HCV nonstructural (NS) cysteine protease, NS2/3, is required for viral replication in vivo. Cystatin C is a naturally occurring cysteine protease inhibitor in human cells. We aimed to investigate the relation between serum levels of cystatin C and HCV viremia in treatment-naïve children with chronic hepatitis C.
Methods: Serum cystatin C levels were measured in 27 children with chronic hepatitis C and determined their relation with liver functions, histopathological parameters, and hepatitis C viral load. Serum cystatin C was compared with that of 25 age- and sex-matched healthy controls.
Results: Cystatin C was significantly higher in patients than in controls (1.4 ± 0.47 vs 0.99 ± 0.49; P = 0.006), and in those with low viremia than in those with moderate viremia (1.55 ± 0.41 vs 0.99 ± 0.43; P = 0.013). Cystatin C was not correlated with histopathological findings in liver biopsy (P > 0.05 for all). In addition, there was no significant difference of cystatin C levels in patients with normal versus those with elevated transaminases (P > 0.05). Of importance, cystatin C correlated negatively with viral load (P < 0.0001).
Conclusions: Cystatin C levels correlated negatively with HCV viremia. This finding may reflect an inhibitory effect of cystatin C on HCV replication through inhibiting its NS2/3 and tempting for further studies for cystatin C as a possible adjuvant therapy for HCV infection.