Background Liver fibrosis is one of the cardinal clinical features of chronic hepatitis C (CHC). However, the mechanisms underlying the evolution and reversion of liver fibrosis after hepatitis C virus (HCV) eradication and their relationship with clinical outcomes and metabolic alterations are not fully elucidated. Whether any non-invasive fibrosis marker can predict prognosis is unknown. Methods Between October 2014 and September 2019, 418 patients with CHC or compensated cirrhosis with HCV were prospectively recruited in this observational study. 326 patients that were successfully eradicated with interferon-free direct antiviral agents (IFN-free DAAs) were analyzed. Peri-treatment dynamics of serum levels of type IV collagen 7S fragment (4COL7S), a fibrosis marker, and subsequent clinical outcomes, including hepatic decompensation, newly emerged hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and all-cause mortality were analyzed. Results Ten (3.1%) patients died during the observation period. 4COL7S-defined fibrosis progression (n = 97, 29.8%) at SVR was significantly correlated with worse all-cause mortality post-SVR (P = 0.0062) but not with the probability of newly emerged HCC (P = 0.24). Prognostic tendency was more prominent in patients with advanced fibrosis (P< 0.0001). 4COL7S-defined fibrosis progression at SVR and a baseline platelet count less than 10×104/μL were significantly predicted all-cause mortality (P = 0.0051). In exploratory analyses, a decreased 4COL7S at the end of treatment was correlated with a matrix-degrading phenotype that showed higher serum metalloproteinase to tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinase-1 ratios and characteristic metabolic fingerprints such as increased butyrate, some medium-chain fatty acids, anabolic amino acids, and decreased uremia toxins. Conclusions Peri-treatment dynamics of serum 4COL7S, a non-invasive fibrosis marker, predict prognosis. Non-invasive fibrosis markers may be useful biomarkers for risk stratification post-SVR.
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