Fibrogenesis results in release of certain extracellular matrix protein fragments into the circulation. We evaluated the diagnostic and prognostic performance of two novel serological markers, the precisely cleaved N-terminal propeptide of type III collagen (Pro-C3) and a peptide of helical collagen type III degradation (C3M), in chronic hepatitis C (CHC) patients.

Pro-C3 and C3M were measured by ELISA in plasma from CHC patients (n = 194) from a prior phase II antifibrotic trial (NCT00244751). Plasma samples and paired liver biopsies were obtained at baseline and after 1-year. Patients were stratified according to Ishak stages 2-4. Internal cross-validation was performed by bootstrap analysis.

Pro-C3 levels were significantly higher in CHC patients in Ishak stage 4 compared to stage 2 (P < 0.001) or 3 (P < 0.01). Pro-C3 could significantly distinguish moderate (stage 4) from mild fibrosis (stage 2/3) (AUC = 0.72, P < 0.001). Importantly, an overall significance in Pro-C3 (P = 0.007) levels was observed between the groups of -1, 0, +1 and +2 change in Ishak stage at 12 months. Pro-C3 was significantly increased in group +1 (P = 0.030) and +2 (P = 0.021) compared to group 0. No significant differences were observed for C3M. In multivariate analysis, only baseline Pro-C3, but not FibroTest, had an independent association with fibrosis progression.

Pro-C3 is a useful test to predict fibrogenesis and monitor disease progression. Moreover, it could differentiate mild from moderate disease. Pro-C3 may become a promising blood parameter be included in future studies for monitoring disease progression and eventually for evaluation of potential antifibrotic therapies