A team from London, England, investigated whether hepatitis C virus (HCV) affects cerebral function.
Patients with HCV infection frequently complain of symptoms akin to the chronic fatigue syndrome. They also score worse on health-related quality of life indices than matched controls.
The researchers used proton magnetic-resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS) to measure cerebral choline/creatine ratios in subjects.
This was performed in 30 patients with histologically-defined mild chronic HCV infection, 29 age-matched and sex-matched healthy controls, and in 12 patients with chronic hepatitis B.
This suggests that a biological process underlies the extrahepatic symptoms in chronic HCV infection.
They found that the choline/creatine ratios were significantly higher in the white matter and basal ganglia of the HCV group, compared with both the hepatitis B group and healthy volunteers.
This elevation was found to be unrelated to hepatic encephalopathy or a history of intravenous drug abuse.
Daniel M Forton, of Imperial College School of Medicine, St Mary's Hospital, London, concluded on behalf of the group, "The elevation in choline/creatine ratios suggests that a biological process underlies the extrahepatic symptoms in chronic HCV infection.
"These findings have implications for the direction of future research and ultimately for patient treatment."