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J Virol. 2011 Apr;85(7):3408-14. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02554-10. Epub 2011 Jan 26.

Reproduction in vitro of a quasispecies from a hepatitis C virus-infected patient and determination of factors that influence selection of a dominant species.

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  • 1Molecular Hepatitis Section, Building 50, Room 6537, Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Hepatitis C virus infections proceed to chronicity in the majority of cases. In patients, hepatitis C viruses exist as a dynamic and complex quasispecies. The dominant species at any one time arises in response to host immune pressure and other, incompletely understood factors. It is critical to understand all the mechanisms by which dominance is achieved, but this is difficult to study in vivo. Therefore, it would be useful to develop a cell culture system in which naturally occurring quasispecies could be studied. Hepatitis C virus glycoprotein genes E1 and E2 were PCR amplified as a cassette from the plasma of a chronically infected patient and shotgun cloned into a modified 1a/JFH1 infectious cDNA clone. Following transformation of bacteria, plasmids were batch harvested, transcribed, and transfected into Huh7.5 cells to produce a quasispecies of hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) that mimicked that circulating in vivo. Serial passage of the quasispecies in vitro resulted in replacement of the initially dominant species with a new HVR1 species coexisting with selected growth-enhancing mutations located outside HVR1. Antibody raised against one HVR1 sequence neutralized virus with the homologous HVR1 and cross-neutralized virus with a different sequence. Reciprocal swapping of the HVR1 regions between the two dominating species demonstrated that the HVR1 sequence affects the efficiency of replication and of neutralization by anti-HVR1 but that both processes are strongly influenced by regions outside HVR1.

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