Viral hepatitis and liver cancer
Mutations at positions 70 and/or 91 in the core protein of genotype-1b, hepatitis C virus (HCV) are associated with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) risk in Asian patients. To evaluate this in a US population, the relationship between the percentage of 70 and/or 91 mutant HCV quasispecies in baseline serum samples of chronic HCV patients from the HALT-C trial and the incidence of HCC was determined by deep sequencing. Quasispecies percentage cut-points, ≥42% of non-arginine at 70 (non-R(70)) or ≥98.5% of non-leucine at 91 (non-L(91)) had optimal sensitivity at discerning higher or lower HCC risk. In baseline samples, 88.5% of chronic HCV patients who later developed HCC and 68.8% of matched HCC-free control patients had ≥42% non-R(70) quasispecies (P = 0.06). Furthermore, 30.8% of patients who developed HCC and 54.7% of matched HCC-free patients had quasispecies with ≥98.5% non-L(91) (P = 0.06). By Kaplan-Meier analysis, HCC incidence was higher, but not statistically significant, among patients with quasispecies ≥42% non-R(70) (P = 0.08), while HCC incidence was significantly reduced among patients with quasispecies ≥98.5% non-L(91) (P = 0.01). In a Cox regression model, non-R(70) ≥42% was associated with increased HCC risk. This study of US patients indicates the potential utility of HCV quasispecies analysis as a non-invasive biomarker of HCC risk.