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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Apr 15, 1991; 88(8): 3392–3396.

Nucleotide sequence and mutation rate of the H strain of hepatitis C virus.


Patient H is an American patient who was infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) in 1977. The patient became chronically infected and has remained so for the past 13 years. In this study, we compared the nucleotide and predicted amino acid sequences of the HCV genome obtained from plasma collected in 1977 with that collected in 1990. We find that the two HCV isolates differ at 123 of the 4923 (2.50%) nucleotides sequenced. We estimate that the mutation rate of the H strain of HCV is approximately 1.92 x 10(-3) base substitutions per genome site per year. The nucleotide changes were exclusively base substitutions and were unevenly distributed throughout the genome. A relatively high rate of change was observed in the region of the HCV genome that corresponds to the non-structural protein 1 gene region of flaviviruses, where 44 of 960 (4.6%) nucleotides were different. Within this region there was a 39-nucleotide domain in which 28.2% of the nucleotides differed between the two isolates. In contrast, relatively few nucleotide substitutions were observed in the 5' noncoding region, where only 2 of 276 (0.7%) nucleotides were different. Our results suggest that the mutation rate of the HCV genome is similar to that of other RNA viruses and that genes appear to be evolving at different rates within the virus genome.

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