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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 1:22 EDT

Fittest Hepatitis C Viruses Infect Transplanted Livers

August 17, 2010

Not all viruses are created equal. In liver transplant patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, only viruses that can dodge the immune response invade the new liver, according to a study published on August 16 in The Journal of Experimental Medicine (www.jem.org).

Chronic HCV infection is the leading indication for liver transplantation in the US. But installing a new liver does not cure disease; in fact, HCV infects the transplanted liver in nearly all patients. However, only a subset of the viruses present prior to transplantation show up in the new organ, according to a study lead by Francoise Stoll-Keller and Thomas Baumert at the University of Strasbourg in France. Compared to many of their pre-transplant brethren, the viruses that invaded the new organ infected liver cells more readily and were impervious to the antibodies that normally block infection.

In most patients, the post-transplant viruses had mutations in one region of the surface protein the virus uses to infect cells. Blocking this region may thus provide a new way to prevent reinfection after liver transplant.

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