Aims: To determine the relative utility of in-situ testing for hepatitis E virus (HEV) RNA and paraffin-section polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to diagnose HEV infection in paraffin-embedded clinical liver biopsies, and to correlate with clinicopathological characteristics. Methods and results: We evaluated in-situ and quantitative PCR (qPCR)-based approaches to identifying HEV in clinical liver biopsies from infected patients from multiple centres, correlating with clinical setting (immunocompetent, allograft or immunosuppressed native liver) and histological findings. Thirty-six biopsies from 29 patients had histological data, 27 and 23 of which had satisfactory material for in-situ RNA testing and tissue qPCR, respectively. Both approaches specifically identified HEV infection, but tissue qPCR was significantly more sensitive than RNAscope in-situ testing (P = 0.035). In immunocompetent but not immunosuppressed patients the tissue qPCR yield correlated with the severity of lobular hepatitis (rho = 0.94, P < 0.001). qPCR viral yield was comparably high in allografts and immunosuppressed native livers and significantly greater than with native liver infection. Immunosuppressed patients showed reduced severity of hepatitis and cholestatic changes, compared with immunocompetent patients. Indeed, HEV-infected liver allografts could show minimal hepatitis for many months. In individual cases each technique was useful when serum was not available to identify chronic infection retrospectively (in biopsies taken 4–31 months before diagnosis), to identify persistent/residual infection when contemporary serum PCR was negative and to identify cleared infection. Conclusions: qPCR is more effective than in-situ RNA testing to identify HEV infection in paraffin-embedded liver biopsies and has diagnostic utility in selected settings.
- liver biopsy
- hepatitis E