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J Gen Virol. 2011 Jun;92(Pt 6):1343-51. doi: 10.1099/vir.0.023010-0. Epub 2011 Feb 9.

High levels of HCV core+1 antibodies in HCV patients with hepatocellular carcinoma.

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  • 1Molecular Virology Laboratory, Hellenic Pasteur Institute, Athens, Greece.


The core region of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) genome possesses an overlapping ORF that has been shown to encode a protein, known as the alternate reading frame protein (ARFP), F or core+1. The biological role of this protein remains elusive, as it appears to be non-essential for virus replication. However, a number of independent studies have shown that the ARFP/F/core+1 protein elicits humoral and cellular immune responses in HCV-infected individuals and interacts with important cellular proteins. To assess the significance of the core+1 humoral response in HCV-infected patients, we examined the prevalence of anti-core+1 antibodies in sera from patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in comparison with chronically HCV-infected individuals without HCC. We produced two HCV core+1 histidine-tagged recombinant proteins for genotypes 1a (aa 11-160) and 1b (aa 11-144), as well as a non-tagged highly purified recombinant core+1/S protein (aa 85-144) of HCV-1b. Using an in-house ELISA, we tested the prevalence of core+1 antibodies in 45 patients with HCC in comparison with 47 chronically HCV-infected patients without HCC and 77 negative-control sera. More than 50 % of the serum samples from HCC patients reacted with all core+1 antigens, whereas <26 % of the sera from the non-HCC HCV-infected individuals tested positive. No core+1-specific reactivity was detected in any of the control samples. In conclusion, the high occurrence of anti-core+1 antibodies in the serum of HCC patients suggests a role for the ARFP/F/core+1 protein in the pathogenesis of HCC.

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