Kidney transplant from donors with hepatitis C virus (HCV) antibody has been limited to HCV viremic recipients only, due to concern of the HCV transmission. However, the new antiviral medications provide an opportunity to expand the utilization of these donors. To study the risk of HCV transmission in kidney transplantation, we used discarded donor kidneys and determined HCV RNA levels by quantitative real-time PCR in bilateral (right and left) kidney biopsies and plasma from 14 HCV antibody-positive donors (sensitivity: 15 international unit (IU)/mL plasma; 1.8 IU/50 nL kidney). In three NAT-negative donors, HCV RNA was negative in plasma and kidney. In all 11 NAT-positive donors, HCV RNA was positive in plasma (range: 5807-19 134 177 IU/mL) but negative in six kidneys from four donors with plasma HCV RNA <1.5 million IU/μL. HCV RNA correlated between right and left kidneys (P = 0.75) and between kidney and plasma (r = 0.86). When normalized by volume, HCV RNA median (range) was 49 (0-957) IU/50 nL plasma and 1.0 (0-103) IU/50 nL kidney, significantly lower in kidney (P = 0.005) than in plasma (14-fold). Plasma HCV RNA can be used to predict the kidney HCV load. Future studies are needed if plasma/kidney HCV levels can be used to stratify donors for transmission risk and recipients for post-transplant management in extended utilization of HCV antibody-positive donors.
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