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Abnormal Uroporphyrin Levels in Chronic Hepatitis C Virus Infection

Martinelli, Ana L.C., M.D.; Villanova, Marcia G., M.D.; Roselino, Ana M.F., M.D.; Figueiredo, José F.C., M.D.; Passos, Afonso D.C., M.D.; Covas, Dimas T., M.D.; Zucoloto, Sérgio, M.D.

Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology: December 1999 - Volume 29 - Issue 4 - p 327-331
Clinical Research

A strong association between hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT) has been observed, but the implications of the viral infection in the metabolism of porphyrins in patients without clinical manifestations of PCT are not known. The levels of porphyrin in plasma and uroporphyrin (URO) and coproporphyrin (COPRO) in 24-hour urine were measured in 156 patients with chronic HCV infection showing no clinical evidence of PCT. Levels of URO higher than the upper limit were observed in 35 of 156 patients (22.4%). The range and the mean values ± standard deviation were 26-1,196 μg/24 hours and 82 ± 204 μg/24 hours. Increased levels of COPRO and plasma porphyrin were observed in 12 of 156 patients (7.7%) and 2 of 156 patients (1.3%) respectively. There were no differences between patients with increased URO levels and patients with normal URO levels in terms of gender, age, risk factors for HCV infection, alcohol abuse, or hepatitis B viral infection. Transferrin saturation (p = 0.040), gamma glutamyl transpeptidase (p < 0.0001), aspartate aminotransferase (p = 0.006), and alanine aminotransferase (p = 0.040) were significantly higher in patients with abnormal URO than in patients with normal URO. The frequency of cirrhosis was higher, but not significantly different, in patients with increased URO (16.7%) compared with patients with normal URO (3.8%). The authors demonstrated that even without a clinical manifestation of PCT it is possible to detect abnormalities in the metabolism of porphyrins in patients with chronic HCV infection. The implications of these findings deserve additional investigation.

From the Departments of Medicine (A.L.C.M., M.G.V., A.M.F.R., J.F.C.F., D.T.C.), Social Medicine (A.D.C.P.), and Pathology (S.Z.), Faculty of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto, University of São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto, Brazil.

Supported by Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq).

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Ana L.C. Martinelli, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto, USP, 14049-900 Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo, Brazil; e-mail:

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.