Modeling hepatitis C virus kinetics during liver transplantation highlights the role of the liver in virus clearance
While the liver, specifically hepatocytes, are widely accepted as the main source for hepatitis C virus (HCV) production, the role of the liver/hepatocytes in the clearance of circulating HCV remains largely unknown. Here we evaluated the function of the liver/hepatocytes in clearing virus from the circulation by investigating viral clearance during liver transplantation and from culture medium in vitro. Frequent HCV kinetic data during liver transplantation were recorded from 5 individuals throughout the anhepatic (AH) phase and for 4 hours after reperfusion (RP), along with recordings of fluid balances. Using mathematical modeling, the serum viral clearance rate, c, was estimated. Analogously, we monitored the clearance rate of HCV at 37°C from culture medium in vitro in the absence and presence of chronically infected Huh7 human hepatoma cells. During the AH phase, in 3 transplant cases viral levels remained at pre-AH levels, while in the other 2 cases HCV declined (half-life, t1/2~1h). Immediately post-RP, virus declined in a biphasic manner in Cases 1-4 consisting of an extremely rapid (median t1/2=5min) decline followed by a slower decline (HCV t1/2=67min). In Case 5, HCV remained at the same level post-RP as at the end of AH. Declines in virus level were not explained by adjusting for dilution from IV fluid and blood products. Consistent with what was observed in the majority of patients in the anhepatic phase, the t1/2 of HCV in cell culture was much longer in the absence of chronically HCV-infected Huh7 cells.
Conclusion: kinetic and modeling results from both in vivo liver transplantation cases and in vitro cell culture studies suggest that the liver plays a major role in clearing HCV from the circulation.