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Virology. 1992 Oct;190(2):894-9.

Genetic drift of hepatitis C virus during an 8.2-year infection in a chimpanzee: variability and stability.

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Immunology Division, Jichi Medical School, Tochigi-ken, Japan.


Extensive variability in genomic sequence, especially at "hypervariable regions" within the NS1/E2 region of the long open reading frame, has been reported for RNA cloned from hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected humans and chimpanzees. However, genetic changes of HCV occurring during the course of chronic infections in humans and animals have been evaluated only for partial sequences of the HCV genome. We compared two full-length cDNA sequences of HCV obtained from a chimpanzee that was experimentally infected with the HC-J4 strain of HCV: one during the early acute phase and another during a chronic phase 8.2 years afterward. Both isolates had 9412 nucleotides plus the 3' poly(U) tail with varying length organized as follows: 5'UTR (1-341); C (342-914); E (915-1490); NS1/E2 (1491-2528); NS2 (2529-3359); NS3 (3360-5186); NS4 (5187-6380); NS5 (6381-9371); and 3'UTR (9372-9412). We found that 111 (1.18%) of the 9412 nucleotides differed between the two isolates and estimated the mutation rate as approximately 1.44 x 10(-3) base substitutions per site per year. Changes in amino acid coding were associated with 42 mutations, 8 of which were clustered at 5' end of NS1/E2 coding region, so-called "HVR-1." We analyzed the HVR-1 and HVR-2 sequences during the course of infection and found that homologous populations were present at the beginning of infection, and sequence heterogeneity within the region had developed 3.5 years later. Two regions of the HCV genome were characterized by a high degree of conservation of nucleotide sequence: 5'UTR and the 3' half of the NS4 region. The possible secondary structure of the 5'UTR suggests a region for internal ribosomal entry. The 3' half of the NS4 region may also have some specific function which depends upon a strict conservation of nucleotide sequence.

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