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J Virol. 2011 Apr;85(8):3978-85. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01760-10. Epub 2011 Feb 2.

Novel mutations in a tissue culture-adapted hepatitis C virus strain improve infectious-virus stability and markedly enhance infection kinetics.

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Gilead Sciences, Inc., 333 Lakeside Drive, Foster City, CA 94404.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) establishes persistent infections and leads to chronic liver disease. It only recently became possible to study the entire HCV life cycle due to the ability of a unique cloned patient isolate (JFH-1) to produce infectious particles in tissue culture. However, despite efficient RNA replication, yields of infectious virus particles remain modest. This presents a challenge for large-scale tissue culture efforts, such as inhibitor screening. Starting with a J6/JFH-1 chimeric virus, we used serial passaging to generate a virus with substantially enhanced infectivity and faster infection kinetics compared to the parental stock. The selected virus clone possessed seven novel amino acid mutations. We analyzed the contribution of individual mutations and identified three specific mutations, core K78E, NS2 W879R, and NS4B V1761L, which were necessary and sufficient for the adapted phenotype. These three mutations conferred a 100-fold increase in specific infectivity compared to the parental J6/JFH-1 virus, and media collected from cells infected with the adapted virus yielded infectious titers as high as 1 × 10(8) 50% tissue culture infective doses (TCID(50))/ml. Further analyses indicated that the adapted virus has longer infectious stability at 37°C than the wild type. Given that the adapted phenotype resulted from a combination of mutations in structural and nonstructural proteins, these data suggest that the improved viral titers are likely due to differences in virus particle assembly that result in significantly improved infectious particle stability. This adapted virus will facilitate further studies of the HCV life cycle, virus structure, and high-throughput drug screening.

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