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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2005 May;49(5):2059-69.

Replication fitness and NS5B drug sensitivity of diverse hepatitis C virus isolates characterized by using a transient replication assay.

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Department of Antiviral Research, Merck Research Laboratories, P.O. Box 4, Sumneytown Pike, West Point, PA 19486, USA.


The innate genetic variability characteristic of chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection makes drug resistance a concern in the clinical development of HCV inhibitors. To address this, a transient replication assay was developed to evaluate the replication fitness and the drug sensitivity of NS5B sequences isolated from the sera of patients with chronic HCV infection. This novel assay directly compares replication between NS5B isolates, thus bypassing the potential sequence and metabolic differences which may arise with independent replicon cell lines. Patient-derived NS5B sequences were similar to those of the established HCV genotypes, but isolates from each patient shared genetic variability specific to that patient, with additional genetic variability observed across the individual isolates. Every sample provided functional NS5B isolates which supported subgenomic replication, frequently to levels comparable to that of laboratory-optimized replicons. All isolates were equivalently sensitive to an active-site nucleoside inhibitor, but the sensitivities to a panel of nonnucleoside inhibitors which targeted three distinct sites on NS5B varied among the isolates. In con1, the original laboratory-optimized replicon, the NS5B S282T substitution confers resistance to the nucleoside inhibitor but impairs replication. This substitution was engineered into both genotype 1a and genotype 1b isolates. Replication was severely debilitated, demonstrating that no compensatory residues were encoded within these genetically diverse sequences to increase the replication fitness of the mutated replicons. This work describes a transient replicon-based assay that can support the clinical development of compounds which target NS5B and demonstrates its utility by examining several patient-derived NS5B isolates for replication fitness and differential sensitivity to NS5B inhibitors.

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