N-acetyl cysteine enhances the response to interferon-alpha in chronic hepatitis C: a pilot study
Beloqui O, Prieto J, Suárez M, Gil B, Qian CH, García N, Civeira MP.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is an RNA virus that replicates in both the liver and lymphoid cells. Interferon-alpha (IFN-alpha) is a useful treatment of chronic hepatitis C (CHC) although resistance to this drug occurs frequently. The mechanisms underlying resistance to IFN remain unknown.
In this work, we have measured the levels of glutathione in plasma and peripheral lymphoid cells from 15 healthy controls and 24 CHC patients, 10 of whom were without treatment and 14 showed high serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) values despite therapy with lymphoblastoid IFN for more than 4 months. In all patients, glutathione levels in plasma and in mononuclear cells were depressed in comparison to controls. In IFN-unresponsive patients, the addition of 600 mg tid of oral N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), a glutathione precursor, resulted in a steady decrease of ALT values in all patients, with complete normalization in 41% of cases after 5-6 months of combined therapy.
Administration of NAC alone for 1 month was without effect in the 10 patients that were not receiving IFN. Supplementation of IFN with NAC induced a near normalization of intralymphocytic glutathione, but plasma levels were only moderately increased. HCV replication was markedly inhibited in lymphocytes and viremia was cleared in one of the 8 patients tested. In conclusion, NAC enhances the response to IFN in CHC. Controlled studies are needed to ascertain whether antioxidant therapy might act in synergy with IFN in chronic viral hepatitis.