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J Virol. 1992 May;66(5):3225-9.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) circulates as a population of different but closely related genomes: quasispecies nature of HCV genome distribution.

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Department of Medicine, Hospital General Universitari Vall d'Hebron, Barcelona, Spain.


Sequencing of multiple recombinant clones generated from polymerase chain reaction-amplified products demonstrated that the degree of heterogeneity of two well-conserved regions of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) genome within individual plasma samples from a single patient was consistent with a quasispecies structure of HCV genomic RNA. About half of circulating RNA molecules were identical, while the remaining consisted of a spectrum of mutants differing from each other in one to four nucleotides. Mutant sequence diversity ranged from silent mutations to appearance of in-frame stop codons and included both conservative and nonconservative amino acid substitutions. From the relative proportion of essentially defective sequences, we estimated that most circulating particles should contain defective genomes. These observations might have important implications in the physiopathology of HCV infection and underline the need for a population-based approach when one is analyzing HCV genomes.

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