BACKGROUND. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infects approximately 170 million people worldwide and may lead to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma in chronically infected individuals. Treatment is rapidly evolving from IFN-α–based therapies to IFN-α–free regimens that consist of directly acting antiviral agents (DAAs), which demonstrate improved efficacy and tolerability in clinical trials. Virologic relapse after DAA therapy is a common cause of treatment failure; however, it is not clear why relapse occurs or whether certain individuals are more prone to recurrent viremia.

METHODS. We conducted a clinical trial using the DAA sofosbuvir plus ribavirin (SOF/RBV) and performed detailed mRNA expression analysis in liver and peripheral blood from patients who achieved either a sustained virologic response (SVR) or relapsed.

RESULTS. On-treatment viral clearance was accompanied by rapid downregulation of IFN-stimulated genes (ISGs) in liver and blood, regardless of treatment outcome. Analysis of paired pretreatment and end of treatment (EOT) liver biopsies from SVR patients showed that viral clearance was accompanied by decreased expression of type II and III IFNs, but unexpectedly increased expression of the type I IFN IFNA2. mRNA expression of ISGs was higher in EOT liver biopsies of patients who achieved SVR than in patients who later relapsed.

CONCLUSION. These results suggest that restoration of type I intrahepatic IFN signaling by EOT may facilitate HCV eradication and prevention of relapse upon withdrawal of SOF/RBV.

TRIAL REGISTRATION. ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01441180.

FUNDING. Intramural Programs of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, and National Cancer Institute; German Research Foundation.


Eric G. Meissner, David Wu, Anu Osinusi, Dimitra Bon, Kimmo Virtaneva, Dan Sturdevant, Steve Porcella, Honghui Wang, Eva Herrmann, John McHutchison, Anthony F. Suffredini, Michael Polis, Stephen Hewitt, Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Henry Masur, Anthony S. Fauci, Shyamasundaran Kottilil


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