Publications by authors named "Donatella Ferraro"

25 Publications

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Phylodynamic Analysis and Implication of HCV Genotype 4 Variability on Antiviral Drug Response and T-Cell Recognition.

Viruses 2020 11 28;12(12). Epub 2020 Nov 28.

Dipartimento di Scienze per la Promozione della Salute, Materno-Infantile di Medicina Interna e Specialistica di Eccellenza "G. D'Alessandro", 90133 Palermo, Italy.

Therapies for HCV care could change the prevalence and the geographic distribution of genotypes due to differences in Sustained Virologic Response (SVR). In this scenario, uncommon genotypes/subtypes, such as genotype 4, could spread from high-risk groups, replacing genotypes eradicated by antiviral drugs. Genotype eradication is also strongly influenced by the CD8+ T cell response. In this study, the genetic variability in HCV genotype 4 strains obtained from a cohort of 67 patients naïve to DAA therapy was evaluated. We found that the presence of resistance-associated substitutions (RAS) was able to affect drug responses. Next, using a prediction tool, viral mutations were identified by their ability, or lack thereof, to reduce the binding affinity with HLA, which affects T cell recognition. The Bayesian coalescent analysis suggested two different circulation clusters, one in risk groups (IDUs and MSM) and the other due to migration flows, dated to 1940 and 1915, respectively. Most of the RAS overlapped with HLA and a lack of binding mutations was observed in 96% of strains. This study describes the introduction of HCV genotype 4 in a region of the Mediterranean basin and evaluates how HCV genotype 4's genetic variability could affect the response of antiviral drugs and CD8+ T cell recognition.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/v12121363DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7761199PMC
November 2020

Point-of-care HCV RNA testing in the setting of DAA therapy: HCV-FiS (HEpatitis C Virus Fingerstick Study).

Liver Int 2019 12 20;39(12):2240-2243. Epub 2019 Sep 20.

Sezione di Gastroenterologia & Epatologia, PROMISE, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

HCV-RNA assessment during therapy with Direct-Acting Antiviral (DAA) regimens still relies on assays requiring blood collection and transport to a specialised laboratory, which may compromise linkage to care. GeneXpert-HCV Viral Load (GXHVL) (Cepheid) is a plasma-based assay used at point of care (POC) with a sensitivity of ≤10 IU/mL, and, results available within 2 hours. Fifty-nine consecutive HCV-patients ready for DAAs treatment were enrolled. HCV-RNA was simultaneously tested using Roche TaqMan RT-PCR (venous blood sample) and GXHVL (capillary blood collected by fingerstick), at baseline (BL), week 4 (W4) of therapy, end of therapy (EOT) and week 12 of follow-up (W12FU). Both assays demonstrated undetectable HCV-RNA in all patients at EOT and identified the single case of HCV-relapse at W12FU. GXHVL used as a point-of-care assay in the outpatient setting provides results fully comparable to the laboratory-based test. Its excellent performance and ease of use suggest its adoption in non-specialist settings where simplicity of care is paramount to implement HCV eradication campaigns.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/liv.14242DOI Listing
December 2019

Effects of Eradicating Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Patients With Cirrhosis Differ With Stage of Portal Hypertension.

Gastroenterology 2016 07 1;151(1):130-139.e2. Epub 2016 Apr 1.

Sezione di Gastroenterologia e Epatologia, Dipartimento Biomedico di Medicina Interna e Specialistica, University of Palermo, Italy.

Background & Aims: Clearance of hepatitis C virus (HCV) via antiviral treatment changes the course of liver disease. We evaluated the benefit of sustained virologic response (SVR) in patients with HCV and cirrhosis without (stage 1) and with (stage 2) esophageal varices (EV).

Methods: We performed a prospective cohort study of 444 patients with HCV and compensated cirrhosis (218 with stage 1 and 226 with stage 2 disease) treated with peg-interferon and ribavirin from June 2001 through December 2009 at the University of Palermo, Italy and followed for a median of 7.6 years (range, 1-12.6 years). We used Cox regression analysis to identify variables associated with appearance or progression of EVs, development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), liver decompensation, and overall survival.

Results: In the intention-to-treat analysis, 67 patients with stage 1 disease (30.7%) and 41 patients with stage 2 disease (18.1%) achieved an SVR (P = .003). Patients with stage 1 disease and an SVR were less likely to develop EVs than stage 1 patients without an SVR (hazard ratio [HR], 0.23; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.11-0.48; P < .001). However, SVR did not affect whether patients with stage 2 disease developed further EVs (HR, 1.58; 95% CI, 0.33-1.03; P = .07, by log-rank test). An SVR was associated with lower risk for HCC (HR, 0.25; 95% CI, 0.12-0.55; P < .001). Patients with stage 2 disease, regardless of SVR, were at greater risk than patients with stage 1 disease for liver decompensation (HR, 2.82; 95% CI, 1.73-4.59; P < .001) or death (HR, 1.77; 95% CI, 1.12-2.80; P = .015). A lower proportion of patients with stage 1 disease and an SVR died from HCC (2.9%), compared with those without an SVR (11.9%) (P = .03) or developed liver decompensation (none vs 7.1% without an SVR; P = .009). A lower proportion of patients with stage 2 disease and an SVR died from causes secondary to HCC (2.0%) compared with those without an SVR (18.4%) (P = .003). Death from causes secondary to liver decompensation did not differ significantly between patients with stage 2 disease with or without an SVR (12.1% vs 25.4%; P = .15).

Conclusions: In a prospective study of 444 patients with HCV and compensated cirrhosis, HCV eradication reduced risk for liver decompensation, HCC, and death, regardless of whether the patients had EVs.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2016.03.036DOI Listing
July 2016

Characterization of measles virus strains circulating in Southern Italy (Palermo area, Sicily) between 2010 and 2011.

Infect Genet Evol 2016 Mar 23;38:117-121. Epub 2015 Dec 23.

(a)Sezione di Microbiologia "A.Chiarini", Italy. Electronic address:

Measles virus (MV) was classified in 24 genotypes that show a distinct geographic distribution. Genotypes contain multiple distinct lineages. In 2011 large outbreaks of measles occurred in Italy and in many European countries. Aims of this study are to analyze the intra-genotype variability and to follow the importation and the spread of new MV strains in Sicily. A fragment of 450 bps of MV C-terminal nucleoprotein was sequenced from sera of 73 Sicilian patients with symptomatic measles infections, occurred between 2010 and 2011. Five MV strains were D4 genotype and 68 were D8 genotype. The MV/D4 sequences were related to MV/D4-Enfield variant. Two lineages of MV/D8 genotypes, related to MV/D8-Villupuram variant and to a strain found in Birmingham in 2006 respectively, were identified. This is the first study that reports the co-circulation of different MV genotypes and lineages in Sicily suggesting multiple origins of the outbreak that occurred during 2010 and 2011 years.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2015.12.017DOI Listing
March 2016

Impact of HBV genotypes A and D genetic variability on infection evolution.

Infect Genet Evol 2015 Jul 16;33:281-7. Epub 2015 May 16.

Sezione di Microbiologia, Dipartimento di Scienze per la Promozione della Salute e Materno Infantile ''G. D'Alessandro'', Università degli Studi di Palermo, Palermo, Italy. Electronic address:

HBV is characterized by a high genetic variability, which is the basis of its classification into eight genotypes (A-H). HBV infection is associated with different outcomes, from self-limiting acute hepatitis to active chronic hepatitis, asymptomatic carriage, and occult infection. The aim of this study was to analyze the genetic variability of HBV genotypes A and D isolates from 79 cases of self-limiting acute hepatitis and chronic hepatitis, in order to identify HBV variants associated with resolution or chronicity of acute HBV infection. The entire preS-S sequence and a fragment of 346 bp of the preC-C region, containing Enhancer II and Basal Core Promoter sequences, were analyzed. A phylogenetic analysis of preS/S region showed that the 45.45% (15/33) of isolates from acute hepatitis cases were genotype A compared to 8.69% (4/46) of chronic hepatitis cases. (p = 0.0002). Mutations associated with immune-escape (T131N, D144A/E, G145K), amino acid polymorphisms in "a determinant" domain of S protein and mutations/deletions in preC/C region were found in isolates from acute and chronic hepatitis B cases. In this study mutations/deletions in preS-S and preC-C regions, usually associated with fulminant acute hepatitis, advanced forms of liver disease and increased risk for HCC, were identified in HBV strains of genotype A and D obtained both from patients with self-limiting acute HBV infection and from persistent infected patients. This founding probably is due to the natural viral evolution under host immune response and to the circulation of a wide variety of HBV strains in our geographic area because of the ancient introduction of genotype D and the migrant fluxes from North Africa. Moreover, the analysis of circulation of new HBV antigenic variants is fundamental for the epidemiological surveys and for the evaluation of the impact of viral evolution on vaccine prophylaxis strategies.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2015.05.016DOI Listing
July 2015

HCV-1b intra-subtype variability: Impact on genetic barrier to protease inhibitors.

Infect Genet Evol 2014 Apr 4;23:80-5. Epub 2014 Feb 4.

Sezione di Gastroenterologia, Dipartimento Biomedico di Medicina Interna e Specialistica (Di.Bi.M.I.S.), Università degli Studi di Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

Due to error-prone RNA polymerase and the lack of proofreading mechanisms, to the spread worldwide and probable long-term presence in human population, HCV showed a high degree of inter- and intra-subtype genetic variability. Protease inhibitors (PIs), a new class of drugs, have been designed specifically on the HCV genotype 1 NS3 protease three-dimensional structure. The viral genetic barrier limits the efficacy of PIs, and fourteen loci in the HCV NS3 gene are involved in resistance to PIs. A sensitive method (15UI/ml) for study the HCV genetic profile of 125 strains from patients naïve to PIs, was developed through the use of new degenerate primers for subtype 1b. We observed the presence of naturally resistance-associated variants in 14% of the HCV strains (V36L, F43S, T54S, I153V, R155Q, D168A/G). T54S was the most common mutation (4%) detected. We investigated, through minimal score (m.s.) calculating, how the HCV intra-subtype 1b variability modifies the genetic barrier to PIs. For >60% of strains a single transition (m.s. of 1) was required for selection of low to medium resistance mutations, while more than one transition/transversion (m.s. ⩾2.5) or one transition plus one transversion (m.s. ⩾3.5) was necessary for most of the high level PI-resistant-associated mutations, except for A156V, for which a single transition was sufficient (m.s. of 1). However, the presence at locus 36 of the amino acid polymorphism S36 in one case and the wild type V36 in 6 isolates, encoded by unusual GTA or GTG codons, might determined a higher probability of V36L/M mutations because of the reduction of the genetic barrier. Instead, the presence of the CGA and CGT codons in the 155(th) position increases the genetic barrier for R155M or R155Q/M. The large intra-subtype variability, suggests that a routine baseline resistance test must be used before PIs-treatment.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2014.01.028DOI Listing
April 2014

Fibrosis evaluation by transient elastography in patients with long-term sustained HCV clearance.

Hepat Mon 2013 May 11;13(5):e7176. Epub 2013 May 11.

Gastroenterologia and Epatologia, Di.Bi.M.I.S., University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

Background: Reversibility of advanced fibrosis after HCV-clearance is an important goal of therapy.

Objectives: Measuring liver stiffness (LS) by transient elastography (TE) might be helpful in this setting.

Patients And Methods: We evaluated 104 patients with biopsy-proven chronic hepatitis C (CHC) and sustained virological response (SVR) after Peg-Interferon (IFN) plus ribavirin since at least 18 months. HCV-eradication was confirmed searching for serum HCV-RNA (TMA® sensitivity > 5-10 IU/ml). Data from literature reported the best LS cut-off values for different stages of liver fibrosis were 7.1 kPa for Metavir stage 2 (F2), 9.5 kPa for F3 and 12.5 for cirrhosis (F4).

Results: TE was not reliable in four SVR obese patients. Metavir-stage of biopsy was F0-1 in 28, F2 in 47, F3 in 17 and F4 in eight patients. The median interval elapsed since achieving SVR was 36 months (range: 18-77, SD¬¬:18). Stratifying patients according to the histological stage assessed before treatment, a clear-cut gradient of LS values was observed from F0-1: median: 3.8 kPa (range: 3.5-4.9) to F2: 4.6 kPa (3.8-6.0), F3: 6.2 kPa (4.8-8.6) and F4: 8.4 kPa (6.2-9.2) (P = 0.001). Overall, 86 patients had lower values of LS than the expected LS values according to Metavir-stage. At multivariate logistic analysis γ-GT and histological steatosis were independently associated with persistence of higher values of LS.

Conclusion: Long term responders to IFN-based therapies have lower LS values than those who are untreated and still viraemic. High levels of γ-GT and liver steatosis, all markers of insulin resistance, may hamper reduction of liver stiffness after HCV-clearance.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.5812/hepatmon.7176DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3741694PMC
May 2013

No detection of occult HBV-DNA in patients with various rheumatic diseases treated with anti-TNF agents: a two-year prospective study.

Clin Exp Rheumatol 2013 Jan-Feb;31(1):25-30. Epub 2012 Aug 30.

Dipartimento Biomedico di Medicina Interna e Specialistica, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

Objectives: The widespread use of tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-targeted therapies in patients with rheumatic, digestive and dermatologic diseases has been associated with reports of reactivation of HBV replication and ensuing hepatitis flares both in asymptomatic HBsAg carriers and in subjects with occult HBV infection. The aim of our work was to investigate in a two-year prospective study the potential for HBV reactivation in patients with inflammatory joint diseases undergoing anti-TNF treatment from a southern Mediterranean area.

Methods: Fifty-seven consecutive outpatients attending the Academic Unit of Rheumatology at the University of Palermo (12 with rheumatoid arthritis, 17 with psoriatic arthritis and 28 with ankylosing spondylitis) were enrolled in the study. HBV-DNA was tested by a standard quantitative assay in HBsAg-positive subjects and by an ad hoc highly sensitive PCR in HBsAg-negative patients performed at baseline and then every six months on the anti-TNF agent.

Results: Occult HBV-DNA was never detected in the 54 HBsAg negative subjects, regardless of their anti HBs/HBc status. All HBsAg positive patients, who were started on prophylactic lamivudine, remained HBV-DNA undetectable throughout the anti-TNF treatment.

Conclusions: Even in an area of previously high HBV endemicity, where occult HBV infection is likely to have a high prevalence, treatment of rheumatological patients with anti-TNF drugs is safe in terms of its potential to reactivate HBV. Prophylaxis with lamivudine is sufficient to prevent reactivation in HBsAg carriers.
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June 2013

Phylogenetic analysis of isolates from new cases of HBV infection in Southern Italy.

Infect Genet Evol 2012 Dec 21;12(8):1591-6. Epub 2012 Jul 21.

Sezione di Microbiologia, Dipartimento di Scienze per la Promozione della Salute G. D'Alessandro, Università degli Studi di Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

The level of endemicity of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections in Italy is low and genotype D infections predominant. New HBV strains may however be introduced as a result of movements of people from regions of high endemicity. The aim of the present study was to determine whether strains from new cases of acute hepatitis B detected in southern Italy were due to endemic or new HBV strains. We studied 34 isolates from patients with acute hepatitis B infection, and 35 from chronic hepatitis B patients. A phylogenetic analysis of preS/S region was done by comparing the sequences from the acute and chronic cases with references sequences. The study showed that 44% of strain from acute hepatitis B patients were of genotype A, 53% of genotype D, and 3% of genotype E. The molecular analysis of isolates from acute hepatitis B patients from Sicily showed a change in the local epidemiology of this infection, with an increase in HBV/A infections and a clustering effect for HBV D2, possibly correlated to immigration. The introduction of new genotypes , could have an effect on HBV-correlated diseases due to the different association between genotype, liver disease and response to antiviral therapy.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2012.07.006DOI Listing
December 2012

Vitamin D levels and IL28B polymorphisms are related to rapid virological response to standard of care in genotype 1 chronic hepatitis C.

Antivir Ther 2012 13;17(5):823-31. Epub 2012 Apr 13.

Sezione di Gastroenterologia, DiBiMIS, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

Background: Genotype 1 (G1) chronic hepatitis C (CHC) patients achieving a rapid virological response (RVR) on pegylated interferon (PEG-IFN) plus ribavirin have a high chance of sustained virological response (SVR), influenced by IL28B status, viral load, fibrosis and insulin resistance. We assessed whether 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25[OH]D) serum levels are linked to RVR and can be used together with IL28B to construct a pretreatment model to predict RVR.

Methods: A total of 117 consecutive patients with G1 CHC were evaluated by biopsy and anthropometric and metabolic measurements. 25(OH)D serum levels were measured by HPLC. IL28B rs12979860 and rs8099917 polymorphisms were also evaluated. All patients underwent antiviral therapy with PEG-IFN-α2a plus ribavirin. HCV RNA was assessed at baseline, week 4, week 12, at the end of therapy and after 6 months of follow-up.

Results: Mean ±SD 25(OH)D serum levels were 26.3 ±10.6 μg/l (range 8.0-58.0) and 31 (26.5%) patients had the rs12979860 CC polymorphism. RVR was achieved in 35 (29.9%) patients, and 32 (91.4%) of them had an SVR, compared to 26 of 82 (31.7%) without RVR. The rs12979860 CC polymorphism (OR 4.575, 95% CI 1.761, 11.889; P=0.002) and higher 25(OH)D levels (OR 1.055, 95% CI 1.010, 1.101; P=0.01) were independently associated with the achievement of RVR by multivariate analysis. The likelihood of RVR progressively increased from patients in the worst class (vitamin D<26.8 μg/l and TT/TC polymorphism; RVR 14.2%), to those with only one positive predictor (RVR 29.7% and 37.5%), and to those in the best class (vitamin D≥26.8 μg/l and rs12979860 CC polymorphism; RVR 73.3%).

Conclusions: In patients with G1 CHC, 25(OH)D serum levels and IL28B status are independently associated with the likelihood to achieve RVR and SVR. When incorporated into a pretreatment predictive model they can assist in further discriminating patients with a high likelihood of achieving RVR and SVR.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3851/IMP2100DOI Listing
January 2013

Hepatic steatosis and insulin resistance are associated with severe fibrosis in patients with chronic hepatitis caused by HBV or HCV infection.

Liver Int 2011 Apr 30;31(4):507-15. Epub 2011 Jan 30.

Sezione di Gastroenterologia, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

Background And Aims: Steatosis and insulin resistance (IR) are the major disease modifying in patients with chronic hepatitis C (CHC). Only few studies evaluated these features in patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB). We aimed to assess the prevalence and the factors related to steatosis and IR in CHB patients, compared with CHC subjects, and to evaluate the potential association between these features and fibrosis severity.

Material And Methods: One hundred and seventy consecutive patients with CHB (28 HBeAg positive, 142 HBeAg negative), were evaluated using liver biopsy and metabolic measurements and matched for sex, age and body mass index with 170 genotype 1 CHC patients. IR was defined if HOMA-IR>2.7. All biopsies were scored for grading and staging by Scheuer's score, and the steatosis was considered significant if ≥ 10%.

Results: The prevalence of significant steatosis was similar in both CHB and CHC patients (31 vs. 38%; P=0.14). IR rate was significantly higher in CHC than in CHB patients (42 vs. 26%; P=0.002). Severe fibrosis (F3-F4), at multivariate analysis, was independently associated with older age (OR 1.050, 95% CI 1.009-1.093), steatosis >10% (OR 4.375, 95% CI 1.749-10.943), and moderate-severe necroinflammatory activity (OR 8.187, 95% CI 2.103-31.875), regardless of HBeAg status, in CHB patients, and with older age (OR 1.080, 95% CI 1.028-1.136), IR (OR 2.640, 95% CI 1.110-6.281), steatosis >10% (OR 3.375, 95% CI 1.394-8.171), and moderate-severe necroinflammatory activity (OR 8.988, 95% CI 1.853-43.593) in CHC patients.

Conclusions: CHB patients had high steatosis prevalence, similar to CHC controls, but lower IR rate. Both steatosis and IR in CHC, and only steatosis in CHB, are independently associated with fibrosis severity.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-3231.2011.02453.xDOI Listing
April 2011

Variability of reverse transcriptase and overlapping S gene in hepatitis B virus isolates from untreated and lamivudine-resistant chronic hepatitis B patients.

Antivir Ther 2009 ;14(5):649-54

Unit of Clinical and Molecular Hepatology, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Messina, Messina, Italy.

Background: The high degree of diversity of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) quasispecies in chronically infected individuals raises the possibility that HBV genetic variants favouring resistance to nucleoside/nucleotide analogues (NAs) might pre-exist to treatment. The aim of this study was to investigate the genetic variability of the entire HBV reverse transcriptase (RT) domain and of the overlapping S gene in a large series of untreated hepatitis B surface antigen carriers and in lamivudine (3TC)-resistant patients.

Methods: Sequencing analysis of the entire HBV RT domain of isolates from 100 untreated (treatment-naive group) and 59 3TC-resistant (3TC-resistant group) consecutive patients with chronic hepatitis B was performed.

Results: In the treatment-naive group, primary mutations known to cause resistance to NAs were not detected, but variably combined secondary/compensatory mutations were found in 46 (46%) patients. Moreover, four patients carried mutations that modified the S protein antigenicity. In the 3TC-resistant group, besides the primary 3TC-resistant mutations, various combinations of primary and secondary mutations conferring resistance to other NAs were detected in 41/59 (69.5%) patients. Importantly, the RT mutations induced by 3TC provoked stop codons in the overlapping S gene in two patients and modified the S protein antigenicity in another nine.

Conclusions: This study shows that HBV mutants associated with resistance to NAs might already be present as the major infecting population in untreated patients, and that variants emerging under 3TC might also carry mutations favouring resistance to other NAs and/or potentially altering the S protein immunoreactivity.
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September 2009

Evaluating the risk of hepatitis B reactivation in patients with haematological malignancies: is the serum hepatitis B virus profile reliable?

Liver Int 2009 Sep 7;29(8):1171-7. Epub 2009 Jul 7.

Cattedra di Virologia, Dipartimento di Scienze per la Promozione della Salute 'G. D'Alessandro', University of Palermo, Sicily, Italy.

Background/aim: Patients with an occult hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection undergoing deep immunosuppression are potentially at risk of HBV reactivation. In order to assess whether a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay for HBV DNA in serum could be used to predict the reactivation of an occult HBV infection, we performed a retrospective study in a cohort of Sicilian patients with oncohaematological diseases.

Methods: We studied by a highly sensitive ad hoc nested PCR for serum HBV DNA 75 HBsAg-negative oncohaematological patients requiring chemotherapy.

Results: Thirty-three patients (44%) were HBV seronegative (anti-HBc and anti-HBs negative) and 42 patients (56%) were HBV seropositive (anti-HBc and/or anti-HBs positive). Baseline serum HBV DNA was positive in nine out of 33 HBV-seronegative patients and in nine out of 42 HBV-seropositive patients (27.3 vs. 21.4%; P=NS). HBsAg seroconversion was observed in five out of 33 seronegative vs. six out of 42 seropositive patients (15 vs. 14%, P=0.9), and in five out of 18 HBV DNA-positive vs. six out of 57 HBV DNA-negative patients (27.7 vs. 10.6%P=0.11). Hepatitis C virus infection was found in 18 patients (24.3%), although with no correlation to HBV serological status, presence of serum HBV DNA or frequency of HBsAg seroconversion.

Conclusions: In oncohaematological patients undergoing chemotherapy, highly sensitive serum HBV DNA testing at baseline has a 28% predictive ability to forecast HBsAg seroconversion in HBV DNA-positive patients, and a 90% ability to forecast persistent HBsAg negativity in HBV DNA-negative patients, a better performance than serological tests.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-3231.2009.02071.xDOI Listing
September 2009

HCV genotypes in Sicily: is there any evidence of a shift?

J Med Virol 2009 Jun;81(6):1040-6

Cattedra di Virologia, Dipartimento di Scienze per la Promozione della Salute "G.D'Alessandro", University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

The distribution of HCV strains in any area is characterized by a relative prevalence of one genotype, and a number of less prevalent types. In some Western countries a change from the prevalent HCV genotype 1 to genotypes 3 and 4 has been reported in the last decade. In order to assess possible variations of the distribution of HCV genotypes in Sicily, a southern region of Italy, a hospital-based cohort, collected prospectively, of 3,209 subjects with chronic HCV infection was surveyed, comparing the distribution of HCV genotypes during two consecutive periods, from 1997 to 2002 and from 2003 to 2007, according to age and gender. The results show that genotype 1b, which has been historically the most prevalent in Sicily, is still predominant, followed more distantly by genotypes 2 and 3a. However, a cohort effect for these genotypes was seen when comparing the two time periods. Genotype 1b decreased slowly over the last decade, due to the death of the people infected, leading to a proportional increase of the other genotypes. No evidence was found in support of a major increase in the prevalence of other genotypes, such as genotype 4, in relation to migration patterns.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jmv.21498DOI Listing
June 2009

Phylogenetic reconstruction of HCV genotype 1b dissemination in a small city centre: the Camporeale model.

J Med Virol 2008 Oct;80(10):1723-31

Department of Hygiene and Microbiology, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

Several seroepidemiological population-based surveys carried out in Italy have shown a high prevalence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Camporeale (CP), a small Sicilian town with a 10.4% prevalence of HCV mostly genotype 1b, probably represents a specific context, since intravenous drug addiction, and sexual promiscuity are almost absent. In order to reconstruct the pattern of introduction and diffusion of HCV in this ecological niche, the NS5 genomic region of 72 HCV genotype 1 isolates (39 from CP and 33 collected throughout Sicily) was amplified and sequenced. Sequences were aligned and analyzed by BioEdit, PAUP and BEAST, and their molecular evolution compared. Thirty-eight HCV genotype 1b isolates from CP were associated in a monophyletic "transmission cluster." By applying Monte Carlo Markov simulation, it was calculated that HCV was introduced between the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s. The phylogenetic distance between the CP cluster and other Sicilian isolates confirmed its uniqueness and the local diffusion from a common ancestor. The data obtained from classic phylogenetic analysis, combined with the application of the Bayesian analysis to the study of the coalescence of phylogenetic trees, have shown that, in CP, few HCV native strains have been transmitted in a limited length of time probably through iatrogenic routes, and then have not spread further.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jmv.21276DOI Listing
October 2008

Genotyping of Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 strains isolated in Northern Sicily, Italy.

New Microbiol 2008 Apr;31(2):217-28

Dipartimento di Igiene e Microbiologia, Università degli Studi di Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

During a three-year period, from April 2002 to May 2005, one hundred-forty-seven samples, taken from technical systems of water distribution at point of use, were repeatedly collected at six different sites in Northern Sicily and assayed for the presence of Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 and serogroups 2 to 14. At the first samplings, the water distribution systems of all the sites were heavily contaminated, and disinfection treatments by the superheat and flush method were therefore performed. Treatments were always successful against L. pneumophila sg.1, but only in a few cases against all other serogroups. Eighty-six strains of L. pneumophila sg. 1, isolated from 26 of these samples, were characterized by amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analysis and sequence-based typing (SBT) procedure. Perfectly overlapping results were obtained by both the procedures and four genotypes were identified, accounting for all the isolates. The easy transferability of the SBT data through a web-based database made it possible to identify the presence in Northern Sicily of the two SBT types most commonly circulating in Europe.
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April 2008

Liver disease in chelated transfusion-dependent thalassemics: the role of iron overload and chronic hepatitis C.

Haematologica 2008 Aug 12;93(8):1243-6. Epub 2008 Jun 12.

Dipartimento Biomedico di Medicina Interna e Specialistica, (DiBiMIS), University of Palermo, Piazza delle Cliniche 2, 90127 Palermo, Italy.

Iron overload and hepatitis virus C infection cause liver fibrosis in thalassemics. In a monocentric retrospective analysis of liver disease in a cohort of 191 transfusion-dependent thalassemics, in 126 patients who had undergone liver biopsy (mean age 17.2 years; 58 hepatitis virus C-RNA positive and 68 hepatitis virus C-RNA negative) the liver iron concentration (median 2.4 mg/gr dry liver weight) was closely related to serum ferritin levels (R = 0.58; p<0.0001). Male gender (OR 4.12) and serum hepatitis virus C-RNA positivity (OR 11.04) were independent risk factors for advanced liver fibrosis. The majority of hepatitis virus C-RNA negative patients with low iron load did not develop liver fibrosis, while hepatitis virus C-RNA positive patients infected with genotype 1 or 4 and iron overload more frequently developed advanced fibrosis. Hepatitis virus C infection is the main risk factor for liver fibrosis in transfusion-dependent thalassemics. Adequate chelation therapy usually prevents the development of liver fibrosis in thalassemics free of hepatitis virus C-infection and reduces the risk of developing severe fibrosis in thalassemics with chronic hepatitis C.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3324/haematol.12554DOI Listing
August 2008

Peg-interferon alone or combined with ribavirin in HCV cirrhosis with portal hypertension: a randomized controlled trial.

J Hepatol 2007 Oct 27;47(4):484-91. Epub 2007 Jun 27.

Cattedra di Gastroenterologia and Unità Operativa Complessa di Gastroenterologia ed Epatologia, Di.Bi.M.I.S, Piazza delle Cliniche 2, 90127 Palermo, Italy.

Background/aims: Risks and benefits of antiviral therapy in HCV cirrhosis with portal hypertension are poorly known.

Methods: We performed a randomized controlled trial in 102 HCV patients with compensated cirrhosis and portal hypertension: 51 received 1 microg/kg/week of Pegylated-interferon alpha-2b and 51 Pegylated-interferon plus 800 mg/day of ribavirin up to 52 weeks.

Results: By intention-to-treat analysis, five patients on monotherapy and eleven on combination therapy achieved a sustained virological response (9.8% vs. 21.6%, p=0.06). The response was more frequent for genotypes 2 or 3 than genotype 1 (66.6% vs. 11.3%, p=0.001). Genotype 1, who had low viral load at start of therapy, were HCV-RNA negative at 4 weeks, and were adherent to the scheduled therapy had a higher probability of sustained virological response. Patients with sustained virological response had less disease events compared to nonresponders (6.2% vs. 38.3%, p=0.03 by log rank test) during follow-up.

Conclusions: In HCV cirrhosis with portal hypertension Peg-interferon plus ribavirin is a feasible treatment. Although the rate of viral eradication is modest, tailoring by genotype and early viral response allows to keep patients on treatment who are more likely to have viral eradication. Patients with viral eradication have fewer disease complications during follow-up.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhep.2007.04.020DOI Listing
October 2007

Different doses of consensus interferon plus ribavirin in patients with hepatitis C virus genotype 1 relapsed after interferon monotherapy: a randomized controlled trial.

World J Gastroenterol 2006 Nov;12(42):6861-4

Cattedra di Gastroenterologia, University of Palermo, Piazza delle Cliniche 2, Palermo 90127, Italy.

Aim: To assess the efficacy of different schedules of consensus interferon (CIFN) plus ribavirin in retreating chronic hepatitis C patients who relapsed after recombinant interferon (rIFN) monotherapy.

Methods: Forty-five patients (34 males and 11 females) with chronic hepatitis due to hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotype 1 who relapsed after a previous course of rIFN monotherapy were randomized to receive 9 mug CIFN three times per week for 52 wk (group A, n = 22) or 18 mug CIFN three times per week for 52 wk (group B, n = 23) in combination with ribavirin 800 to 1200 mg daily for 52 wk (according to body weight). Virological response was evaluated at week 24 (EVR), at the end of treatment (ETR) and at 76 wk (SVR).

Results: By intention-to-treat analysis, subjects in group A had an EVR in 35% of cases, an ETR in 35% and a SVR in 27.3% of cases. Subjects in group B had an EVR in 32% of cases, an ETR in 35% and a SVR in 26.1% of cases. Treatment was stopped because of adverse effects (mostly intolerance) in 15 patients (6 in group A and 9 in group B). IFN dose reduction was needed in 2 patients (1 in group A and 1 in group B). Ribavirin dose was reduced in 2 patients in group A and 1 in group B respectively. Among the 15 subjects who received at least 80% of the intended schedule, the rate of SVR was 80% (6 in group A and 6 in group B).

Conclusion: CIFN in combination with ribavirin when given to HCV genotype 1 relapsers after rIFN monotherapy obtains an unsatisfactory rate of sustained viral clearance independently of dosage of the drug. This may be due to its scarce tolerability.
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http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4087443PMC
http://dx.doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v12.i42.6861DOI Listing
November 2006

HBV-DNA suppression and disease course in HBV cirrhosis patients on long-term lamivudine therapy.

Antivir Ther 2005 ;10(3):431-9

Cattedra e Unità Operativa Complessa di Gastroenterologia ed Epatologia, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

In hepatitis B virus (HBV) cirrhosis patients on long-term lamivudine (LAM), the relationships between HBV suppression, development of viral resistance and disease outcome are unclear. We analysed the dynamic of serum HBV-DNA and its relationship with the clinical course of 59 patients (52 males, mean age 51.4 +/- 8.4 years, 12 HBeAg positive and 47 HBeAg negative, and 57 genotype D and two genotype A) with cirrhosis (45 in Child-Turcotte-Pugh class A) and high levels of serum HBV-DNA (median 14.7 x 10(7) genomes/ml) treated with LAM [median (range): 44 (15-78) months]. A total of 50 patient (84.7%) achieved a virological response (serum HBV-DNA negative by PCR) during the first 6 months of therapy, and nine (13.3%) achieved a reduction in viral load of > 3 log10. Mutations in the YMDD motif of HBV polymerase were documented in 26 patients [median (range) 18: (7-42) months]. At the time of the emergence of mutants, 22 patients had HBV-DNA < 10(5) genomes/ml and normal alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels. The appearance of virological resistance was followed by an increase of HBV-DNA to > 10(5) genomes/ml and of ALT values in 19 out of 26 patients [median (range): 8 (3-19) months]. Event-free survival was significantly longer (P = 0.001) in patients who maintained virological suppression than in those who did not have a complete virological response or suffered a breakthrough. Patients with advanced cirrhosis were more likely to develop liver failure after the emergence of YMDD mutants. The risk of development of hepatocellular carcinoma in patients with compensated cirrhosis and YMDD mutations was maintained, regardless of HBV-DNA serum levels. Profound and maintained HBV-DNA suppression correlates with a better outcome. Early identification of LAM resistance mutations allows switching to other antivirals before liver decompensation or hepatocellular carcinoma development.
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June 2005

Hepatitis B virus reactivation and alemtuzumab therapy.

Eur J Haematol 2005 Mar;74(3):254-8

Department of Oncology, Haematology, and BMT Unit, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

Reactivation of hepatitis B virus infection in subjects receiving cytotoxic treatment for heamatological malignancies occurs in 21-53% of chronic HBsAg carriers and in an unknown number of HBsAg negative subjects harbouring occult HBV infection. Immunotherapy with alemtuzumab, a humanized monoclonal antibody against CD52 epitopes on lymphocytes cells produces deep immunosuppression. We describe two subjects with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and occult HBV infection who developed a virological and biochemical flare of hepatitis B following immunotherapy with alemtuzumab. One of them developed full blown hepatitis with seroreversion from anti-HBs to HBsAg after four weeks of alemtuzumab therapy. Lamivudine (100 mg die) achieved a complete clinical recovery and HBV-DNA clearance from blood within 8 weeks. The second patient (HBsAg and HBV-DNA seronegative, anti-HBs and anti-HBc positive before treatment) was kept under prophylaxis with lamivudine up to three months after alemtuzumab. Two months after withdrawal of lamivudine, clinical and laboratory features of acute hepatitis B developed. Lamivudine therapy was restarted and a prompt recovery was obtained with HBsAg and HBV-DNA clearance.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0609.2004.00375.xDOI Listing
March 2005

HVR-1 quasispecies modifications occur early and are correlated to initial but not sustained response in HCV-infected patients treated with pegylated- or standard-interferon and ribavirin.

J Hepatol 2004 May;40(5):831-6

Department of Virology, National Institute for Infectious Diseases L. Spallanzani, Rome, Italy.

Background/aims: HVR-1 quasispecies composition and evolution were investigated in patients chronically infected with genotype 1b HCV, treated with PEG-IFN alpha 2b or STD-IFN alpha 2b plus RBV.

Methods: HVR-1 heterogeneity was assessed by calculating nucleotidic complexity, diversity, synonymous (S) and non-synonymous (NS) substitutions at baseline, after 4 weeks of therapy (T1) and at follow-up (T18). Evolution of viral quasispecies was analysed by constructing phylogenetic trees.

Results: No correlation of baseline viremia with heterogeneity was observed. Nucleotidic complexity was lower in patients showing early virological response, and tended to be inversely correlated to viral load decline at 4 weeks of treatment. In the majority of SR, profound changes of quasispecies composition occurred during 4 weeks of treatment, while in NR virtually no major changes of pre-therapy variants were observed. Relapse showed both patterns of quasispecies evolution. Virus quasispecies after follow-up was similar to that found at T1 in both Relapsers and NR patients.

Conclusions: Baseline parameters of HVR-1 heterogeneity seem to be involved in the early response to treatment, and early response is associated with profound variations in the HVR-1 quasispecies. Viral quasispecies surviving early therapeutic pressure are most likely able to give rise to either virus rebound or persistence at T18.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhep.2004.01.019DOI Listing
May 2004

IL-10 and TNF-alpha polymorphisms and the recovery from HCV infection.

Hum Immunol 2003 Jul;64(7):674-80

Dipartimento di Biopatologia e Metodologie Biomediche, Università di Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection becomes chronic in about 85% of infected individuals, whereas only 15% of infected people clear spontaneously the virus. It is conceivable that the host immunogenetic background influences the course of infection in term of recovery. Thus, in this study we have evaluated the effect of functionally relevant polymorphisms at tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha, i.e., 2 biallelic polymorphisms at nt -863 and nt-308 of the promoter) and interleukin-10 (IL-10) loci (i.e., 1 biallelic polymorphism at nt -1082 of the promoter), on the clearance of HCV infection. To this purpose, we compared 18 Sicilian patients who had spontaneously recovered from previous HCV infection with 42 Sicilian patients with current HCV infection and 135 Sicilian healthy patients. The results demonstrate a decreased frequency of the -863CC TNF-alpha promoter genotype (involved in high production of this pro-inflammatory cytokine) and an increased frequency of the -1082GG IL-10 promoter genotype (involved in high production of this anti-inflammatory cytokine) in patients recovered from HCV infection. The evaluation of combined TNF-alpha and IL-10 genotypes revealed a significant increase of the "anti-inflammatory genotype" (low-TNF/high-IL-10 producers) in resolved HCV infection group compared with patients with persistent HCV infection. On the whole, our findings suggest that a genetically determined control of the HCV-induced inflammatory response may play a role in the resolution of HCV infection.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/s0198-8859(03)00080-6DOI Listing
July 2003

ISDR pattern and evolution in patients with chronic hepatitis C treated with standard or PEG-IFN plus ribavirin.

Antivir Ther 2003 Apr;8(2):105-10

National Institute for Infectious Diseases L Spallanzani, Rome, Italy.

The aim of the study was to characterize the interferon sensitivity determining region (ISDR) mutation pattern and its changes at 4 weeks of treatment in a population of patients infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotype 1b receiving standard or PEG-IFN plus ribavirin (RBV), to find possible early correlates of therapy outcome. Forty-five patients with chronic hepatitis due to HCV 1b were treated by PEG-IFN-alpha2b (n=23) or IFN-alpha2b (n=22) plus RBV 1000-1200 mg/day. They were classified 24 weeks after stopping therapy as sustained responders (SR), relapsers (REL) or non-responders (NR). Sixteen patients were SR, 12 REL and 17 NR. ISDR mutations were evaluated by direct sequencing at baseline in all and after 4 weeks in patients with detectable viraemia (n=30). The frequency of the three ISDR types was 26.7% wild-type, 64.4% intermediate-type and 8.9% mutant-type, without significant difference in their frequency in SR, REL and NR, independent of IFN formulation. Average numbers of mutations in SR, REL and NR were 1.88 +/- 0.54, 1.33 +/- 0.33 and 0.94 +/- 0.25, respectively, P>0.05. The baseline number of ISDR mutations was not related to the extent of viral load decline in the first month of therapy. Sequence analysis of ISDR region performed 4 weeks after starting therapy revealed qualitative or quantitative changes of ISDR sequence in only seven patients, without correlation with response. Thus, in our patients the baseline pattern of ISDR was unrelated to treatment outcome. Selection towards a dominant IFN-resistant strain did not occur under standard or PEG-IFN plus RBV.
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April 2003

Endemic hepatitis C virus infection in a Sicilian town: further evidence for iatrogenic transmission.

J Med Virol 2002 Jul;67(3):339-44

Virology Unit, University of Palermo, Italy.

The prevalence of and risk factors for HCV and HBV infections in the general population and the predictive value of ALT screening in identifying anti-HCV positive subjects have been evaluated in a small Sicilian town. A random 1:4 sampling from the census of the general population was performed. Anti-HCV, HCV-RNA, HCV genotype, HBsAg, and anti-HBc were tested. The linkage between HCV infection and potential risk factors was evaluated by multiple logistic regression analysis. Among 721 subjects studied, 75 (10.4%) were anti-HCV positive. The HCV infection rate increased from 0.4% in subjects 10-29 years of age to 34% in those > 60 years of age. Among the 75 anti-HCV positive subjects, 66.7% were HCV-RNA positive and 36% had abnormal ALT, in contrast abnormal ALT levels were found in 4.3% of the 646 anti-HCV negative subjects (P < 0.01). HCV genotype 1b infected the majority (88.0%) of viremic subjects. Exposure to HBV infection (anti-HBc positivity) was found in 11.2% of subjects; HBsAg positivity was 0.7%. At multivariate analysis, two variables were associated with HCV infection: age > or = 45 years (OR 27.8; CI 95% = 11.0-70.2) and previous hospitalization (OR 2.5; CI 95% = 1.3-4.7). ALT testing had low positive predictive value (PPV = 49.1%) for HCV infection. The positive predictive value was good (88%) in people > or = 60 years of age, but minimal (16.7%) in those below 60. These findings indicate that HCV infection is common in the elderly, perhaps as a result of past iatrogenic transmission. The present low rate of HCV infection among the younger generations coupled with the low progression of the viral related liver damage does not support the projection of a future increasing incidence in the next decades of the burden of HCV-related chronic disease. HBV infection, formerly common in this area, is already in sharp decline. In an area of high HCV endemicity, screening of the general population by ALT cannot be used a surrogate marker to detect HCV infection in those susceptible to treatment.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jmv.10081DOI Listing
July 2002