Background & Aims: Characterization of inflammatory mediators, such as chemokines, during acute hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection might shed some light on viral clearance mechanisms. Methods: Plasma levels of CXCR3 (CXCL9-11)- and CCR5 (CCL3-4)-associated chemokines, ALT, and HCV RNA were measured in nine injection drug users (median 26 samples/patient) before and during 10 acute (eight primary and two secondary) HCV infections. Using functional data analysis, we estimated smooth long-term trends in chemokine expression levels to obtain the magnitude and timing of overall changes. Residuals were analyzed to characterize short-term fluctuations. Results: CXCL9-11 induction began 38-53 days and peaked 72-83 days after virus acquisition. Increases in ALT levels followed a similar pattern. Substantial negative auto-correlations of chemokine levels at 1 week lags suggested substantial week-to-week oscillations. Significant correlations were observed between CXCL10 and HCV RNA as well as ALT and CXCR3-associated chemokines measured in the preceding week, CCL3-4 expression levels did not change appreciably during acute HCV infection. Conclusions: Elevation of CXCR3-associated chemokines late during acute HCV infection suggests a role for cellular immune responses in chemokine induction. Week-to-week oscillations of HCV RNA, chemokines, and ALT suggest frequent, repeated cycles of gain and loss of immune control during acute hepatitis C.
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