The research was led by the University’s Dr Nicola Fletcher from the School of Immunity and Infection at the Manhattan Brain Bank in New York. It detected remnants of the virus in four out of ten brain samples of people infected with the virus that posthumously donated brain and live tissue. Further laboratory tests proved that brain cells isolated from the ‘blood-brain barrier’ (which prevents harmful bacteria and viruses diffusing into the central membrane of the brain) could be infected with the virus.
Dr Fletcher said: ‘The endothelial cells make up the security system of the brain, a kind of bouncer at the door that keeps out undesirable elements. If this barrier is compromised all kinds of substances can gain access to the brain, which may explain the fatigue and other symptoms reported by HCV-infected patients.'
Another participant in the study, Professor Jane McKeating, Chair of Molecular Virology said: ‘This is the first report that cells of the central nervous system support HCV replication. These observations could have clinical implications providing a reservoir for the virus to persist during anti-viral treatment’.
Hepatitis C normally affects the liver and can lead to permanent scarring and cirrhosis which in turn can lead to further complications like liver failure and liver cancer. Currently an estimated 130–170 million people are infected with the disease worldwide and no vaccine against it is currently available.