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Semin Liver Dis. 2000;20(1):103-26.

Clinical significance of hepatitis C virus genotypes and quasispecies.

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Department of Medical Sciences, University of Cagliari, Italy.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The infection becomes chronic in about 85% of infected individuals, in the face of a strong humoral and cellular immune response. One of the most important features of HCV is its high degree of genetic variability, which is due to the inherent low fidelity of the viral replication machinery. As a consequence, HCV circulates in vivo as a population of divergent, albeit closely related, genomes exhibiting a distribution that follows the model referred to as a quasispecies. The genetic variability of HCV is complex and has been classified into four hierarchical strata: genotypes, subgenotypes, isolates, and quasispecies. Over the past few years, an extraordinary interest has been focused on the biologic and clinical implications of the genetic variability of HCV. Although there is consensus that the genotypes may influence the out come of antiviral therapy, their clinical significance in the natural history of the disease, as well as in transmission, infectivity, and pathogenesis of HCV infection, remains elusive. Conversely, evidence has accumulated that the quasispecies nature of HCV provides a large reservoir of biologically different viral variants that may have important clinical implications for viral persistence by immune escape mechanisms, for the generation of antiviral drug resistance, and for the development of an effective vaccine. This article reviews the state of the art on the biologic and clinical implications of the genetic variability of HCV.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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