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J Virol. 2008 Jul;82(13):6711-20. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02582-07. Epub 2008 Apr 16.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV)-induced immunoglobulin hypermutation reduces the affinity and neutralizing activities of antibodies against HCV envelope protein.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine, 2011 Zonal Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) often causes persistent infection despite the presence of neutralizing antibodies against the virus in the sera of hepatitis C patients. HCV infects both hepatocytes and B cells through the binding of its envelope glycoprotein E2 to CD81, the putative viral receptor. Previously, we have shown that E2-CD81 interaction induces hypermutation of heavy-chain immunoglobulin (V(H)) in B cells. We hypothesize that if HCV infects antibody-producing B cells, the resultant hypermutation of V(H) may lower the affinity and specificity of the HCV-specific antibodies, enabling HCV to escape from immune surveillance. To test this hypothesis, we infected human hybridoma clones producing either neutralizing or non-neutralizing anti-E2 or anti-E1 antibodies with a lymphotropic HCV (SB strain). All of the hybridoma clones, except for a neutralizing antibody-producing hybridoma, could be infected with HCV and support virus replication for at least 8 weeks after infection. The V(H) sequences in the infected hybridomas had a significantly higher mutation frequency than those in the uninfected hybridomas, with mutations concentrating in complementarity-determining region 3. These mutations lowered the antibody affinity against the targeting protein and also lowered the virus-neutralizing activity of anti-E2 antibodies. Furthermore, antibody-mediated complement-dependent cytotoxicity with the antibodies secreted from the HCV-infected hybridomas was impaired. These results suggest that HCV infection could cause some anti-HCV-antibody-producing hybridoma B cells to make less-protective antibodies.

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