Evaluation of hepatitis C viral RNA persistence in HIV-infected patients with long-term sustained virological response by droplet digital PCR.

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Several studies have reported the persistence of HCV RNA in liver and/or peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in spite of undetectable viremia in patients who have achieved sustained virological response (SVR). This event, defined as occult HCV infection, remains controversial and low titers of persistent virus may be underestimated because it has not yet been analyzed by a highly sensitive test such as droplet digital PCR (ddPCR). This method provides an alternate ultra-sensitive detection technique for very low numbers of copies of viral RNA or DNA. The aim of this study was to evaluate the persistence of HCV in HIV-coinfected patients with long-term SVR using ddPCR. For each patient, the presence of HCV RNA in serum and PBMCs at baseline was determined by nested RT-ddPCR. Patients with HCV RNA in PBMCs at baseline were followed until the end of the study. One hundred and twenty-three patients were analyzed for persistence of HCV RNA in serum and PBMCs. Persistence of HCV was not found in serum in any patient. HCV RNA was detected in PBMCs in one patient (0.81%; 95% CI: 0.04-3.94) and resolved spontaneously during follow-up. Persistence of HCV RNA in PBMCs is not a common event in HIV/HCV co-infected patients with long-term SVR evaluated by RT-ddPCR.
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