High concentrations of nitric oxide (NO) are generated by the inducible form of the enzyme nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), which is expressed in activated macrophages and in hepatocytes. Increased expression of iNOS in hepatocytes or macrophages might be expected in chronic HCV liver disease and HIV infections. This might in turn be reflected in increased serum NO levels in these two conditions. In view of the discrepant findings in published reports, we measured serum NO levels in a large number of chronic HCV-infected patients and patients with chronic HIV infections with or without AIDS-related opportunistic infection. We also localized HCV and iNOS antigens by immunohistochemistry, in liver biopsy tissue from patients with chronic HCV-related hepatitis, HCV-related cirrhosis, and HCV-related hepatocellular carcinoma. A group of 121 subjects with serological evidence of HCV with or without HIV infection were studied. These were compared with 14 controls without HIV or HCV disease (group A). Among the subjects with HCV, 35 were negative for HIV (group B), 66 were HIV positive (group C), and 20 had AIDS-related opportunistic infection (group D). The serum NO concentration was determined by the Brucine method. A well-characterized commercially available antibody (HCV88) directed against a synthetic NS3 peptide fragment of HCV, which localizes to the hepatocyte nuclei, and an antibody to human macrophage iNOS, were both used to detect these proteins in liver biopsy tissue by immunohistochemistry. Mean serum NO values in HIV negative/HCV negative control patients (group A) (54.6 ± 12 μM) were similar to those in HIV negative/HCV positive patients (group B) (55.0 ± 13 μM) and HIV positive without AIDS-related disease/HCV positive patients (group C) (47.2 ± 25 μM). By contrast, the mean serum NO (70.1 ± 24 μM) was significantly increased in HCV-positive patients with AIDS-related infection (group D) compared to controls (P = 0.02). HCV NS3 and iNOS antibody staining hepatocytes were not detected in any of the control non-HCV-infected biopsy samples. In early chronic HCV hepatitis (fibrosis scores F0–F2), HCV NS3 antigen localized focally to only a small number of hepatocytes. In cirrhosis (fibrosis score F4) with or without hepatocellular carcinoma, the majority of hepatocyte nuclei stained positively with HCV NS3 antibody. The majority of hepatocytes in chronic HCV hepatitis expressed iNOS, irrespective of histological disease severity. The staining was present uniformly in the cytoplasm. In chronic HCV and HIV coinfection, the pattern and number of iNOS staining cells were similar to that in patients with chronic HCV infection alone. In conclusion, there is widespread expression of iNOS in hepatocytes in chronic HCV liver disease, irrespective of liver disease stage. However, elevated NO levels in serum were related only to active AIDS-related bacterial, protozoan, and fungal infections, rather than to chronic viral infection with HCV or HIV alone. NO may play a role in the local control of chronic viral infections at tissue level, but this is not reflected in serum levels.
nitric oxideinducible nitric oxide synthasehepatitis C virushuman immunodeficiency virus