Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is commonly associated with neurocognitive dysfunction, altered neuropsychological performance and neuropsychiatric symptoms. Quantifiable neuropsychological changes in sustained attention, working memory, executive function, verbal learning and recall are the hallmark of HCV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HCV-AND). This constellation is at variance with the neuropsychological complex that is seen in minimal hepatic encephalopathy, which is typified by an array of alterations in psychomotor speed, selective attention and visuo-constructive function. Noncognitive symptoms, including sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety and fatigue, which are less easily quantifiable, are frequently encountered and can dominate the clinical picture and the clinical course of patients with chronic HCV infection. More recently, an increased vulnerability to Parkinson’s disease among HCV-infected patients has also been reported. The degree to which neurocognitive and neuropsychiatric changes are due to HCV replication within brain tissues or HCV-triggered peripheral immune activation remain to be determined. Without absolute evidence that clearly exonerates or indicts HCV, our understanding of the so-called “HCV brain syndrome”, relies primarily on clinical and neuropsychological assessments, although other comorbidities and substance abuse may impact on neurocognitive function, thus confounding an appropriate recognition. In recent years, a number of functional and structural brain imaging studies have been of help in recognizing possible biological markers of HCV-AND, thus providing a rationale for guiding and justifying antiviral therapy in selected cases. Here, we review clinical, neuroradiological, and therapeutic responses to interferon-based and interferon-free regimens in HCV-related cognitive and neuropsychiatric disorder.
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