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J Clin Microbiol. Apr 1993; 31(4): 882–886.
PMCID: PMC263581

Detection of hepatitis C virus RNA by a combined reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction assay.


Amplification of RNA by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is normally a two-step process requiring separate enzymes and buffer conditions. We describe a combined reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) assay for hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA amplification in which a single enzyme and buffer condition are used. In this assay, both the RT and PCR steps are carried out with the thermoactive DNA polymerase of Thermus thermophilus. A transcription vector containing HCV sequences has also been constructed to generate quantifiable HCV RNA templates that can be used to optimize reaction conditions and to assess the efficiency of amplification. Amplification from < or = 100 copies of RNA was detected reproducibly by gel electrophoresis. The assay sensitivity was increased to 10 RNA copies by hybridization to a probe. The patterns of viremia in three individuals infected with HCV were examined by amplification of HCV RNA from plasma samples collected serially over a period of 1 year. These results were correlated with the times of seroconversion and the onset of rise in levels of alanine aminotransferase in serum. In all three subjects, HCV RNA was detected prior to seroconversion and the initial rise in levels of alanine aminotransferase in serum. Upon seroconversion, HCV RNA fell to a level below the detection limit of the assay. This pattern of transient viremia appears to be characteristic of acute, resolving HCV infections. The combined RT-PCR assay is a sensitive method which circumvents the problems associated with PCR amplification of RNA. Using this assay, we demonstrated that three donors infected by the same index case all have similar patterns of viremia.

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