Background: Clinical and experimental evidence suggests that hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection shows peculiar characteristics that strongly support a role in the development of atherosclerosis. We aimed to investigate whether (a) HCV infection can facilitate asymptomatic carotid lesions and (b) the presence of HCV RNA sequences can be shown in plaque tissues. Methods: The status of carotid arteries, studied as intima-media thickness (IMT) in carotid bifurcation and prevalence and severity of plaques in internal carotid artery, was investigated by high-resolution B-mode ultrasonography in 31 HCV seropositive (HCV+) and in 120 age-matched HCV seronegative (HCV-) subjects evaluated for cardiovascular risk factors. The atherosclerotic risk profile, inflammation markers and main liver function tests were also studied in all patients. HCV RNA sequences were investigated by highly sensitive reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in plaque tissues and serum of 2 HCV+ patients who underwent carotid revascularization. Results: Genomic and antigenomic HCV RNA strands were evidenced within both the carotid plaque tissues examined. The prevalence of an IMT > 1 mm, but not the prevalence and severity of internal carotid plaques, was significantly higher (P <0.001) in HCV+ than in HCV patients. The atherosclerotic risk profile for traditional and inflammatory factors did not differ between the HCV+ and HCV- groups. Main liver function tests did not differ between the two groups. HCV positivity was significantly associated with >1 mm IMT (P <0.01) according to univariate analysis, and this association remained significant in multivariate regression analysis. Conclusions: The novel finding of HCV RNA sequences within carotid plaques suggests a local pro-atherogenetic action of the virus inside the plaque. On the whole our data strongly support that HCV infection facilitates the occurrence of carotid atherosclerotic lesions.
- Carotid plaques
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