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Gastroenterology. 2001 Nov;121(5):1226-33.

Emergence of a distinct pattern of viral mutations in chimpanzees infected with a homogeneous inoculum of hepatitis C virus.

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  • 1Liver Diseases Section, National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-1800, USA.



Prospective, long-term study of viral evolution and immunologic responses in chimpanzees infected with a homogeneous hepatitis C virus (HCV) population is crucial in understanding the pathogenesis of HCV-host interactions.


A molecular clone was constructed of HCV genotype 1b and RNA transcribed from this clone inoculated intrahepatically into chimpanzee X0142. Serum was taken from X0142 at week 2 and inoculated intravenously into a second chimpanzee (X0234). Detailed virologic, serologic, and immunologic analyses of these 2 chimpanzees were performed.


Both chimpanzees developed persistent viremia, with titers of 10(3) to 10(5) genomes/mL, for 80 weeks (X0142) and 55 weeks (X0234) of follow-up. A late antibody response against the nonstructural proteins and a weak, transient T-helper proliferative response were detected in both animals. In X0142, 25 mutations emerged in the virus population by week 78 and 15 in X0234 by week 35. A relatively large proportion of mutations affecting protein sequences appeared in the NS5A gene (33% in X0142 and X0234 combined), and 5 mutations were common to both chimpanzees.


In this long-term study of the molecular evolution of HCV genotype 1b from a cloned source, the appearance of a distinct pattern of mutations is suggestive of an adaptive response of HCV in vivo. In addition, a limited virus-specific immunity may contribute to HCV persistence.

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