Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection remains the leading indication for liver transplantation (LT) worldwide. Recurrent hepatitis C following LT is universal, and significant fibrosis (SF, Metavir fibrosis stage ≥2) apparent on protocol biopsy typically prompts antiviral therapy.
To determine the optimal timing of protocol liver biopsies in this setting.
A total of 151 patients who underwent LT related to HCV infection between July 2004 and December 2009 were analyzed retrospectively. Data regarding protocol liver biopsies at six, 12 and 24 months post-LT, conventional laboratory parameters and demographic information were obtained.
The 151 patients included in the present study had significantly lower serum aspartate aminotransferase (AST) levels than the four patients who progressed to receive antiviral treatment for SF before six months post-LT (P<0.001). AST level, but not alanine aminotransferase level, histological activity or fibrosis stage at the six-month biopsy was independently associated with the progression to SF at 12 months (P<0.05). However, AST level, histological activity and fibrosis stage at the 12-month biopsy emerged as independent parameters associated with progression to SF at 24 months (P<0.05).
The protocol liver biopsy at six months could be eliminated, especially in patients who consistently exhibit low AST levels. Histological activity, the presence or absence of fibrosis, and AST values at the 12-month biopsy may lead to the decision to defer the protocol biopsy at 24 months or result in earlier introduction of antiviral therapy.