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J Virol. 2011 Sep;85(17):8913-28. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00049-11. Epub 2011 Jun 22.

Development and application of hepatitis C reporter viruses with genotype 1 to 7 core-nonstructural protein 2 (NS2) expressing fluorescent proteins or luciferase in modified JFH1 NS5A.

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Copenhagen Hepatitis C Program (CO-HEP), Department of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Research Centre, Copenhagen University Hospital, Hvidovre, Kettegaard Alle 30, DK-2650 Hvidovre, Denmark.


To facilitate genotype-specific high-throughput studies of hepatitis C virus (HCV), we have developed reporter viruses using JFH1-based recombinants expressing core-nonstructural protein 2 (NS2) of genotype 1 to 7 prototype isolates. We introduced enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) into NS5A domain III of the genotype 2a virus J6/JFH1 [2a(J6)]. During Huh7.5 cell culture adaptation, 2a(J6)-EGFP acquired a 40-amino-acid (aa) (Δ40) or 25-aa (Δ25) deletion in NS5A domain II, rescuing the impairment of viral assembly caused by the EGFP insertion. Δ40 conferred efficient growth characteristics to 2a(J6) tagged with EGFP, DsRed-Express2, mCherry, or Renilla luciferase (RLuc), yielding peak supernatant infectivity titers of 4 to 5 log(10) focus-forming units (FFU)/ml. 2a(J6) with Δ40 or Δ25 was fully viable in Huh7.5 cells. In human liver chimeric mice, 2a(J6)-EGFPΔ40 acquired various deletions in EGFP, while 2a(J6)Δ40 did not show an impaired viability. We further developed panels of JFH1-based genotype 1 to 7 core-NS2 recombinants expressing EGFP- or RLuc-NS5AΔ40 fusion proteins. In cell culture, the different EGFP recombinants showed growth characteristics comparable to those of the nontagged recombinants, with peak infectivity titers of 4 to 5 log(10) FFU/ml. RLuc recombinants showed slightly less efficient growth characteristics, with peak infectivity titers up to 10-fold lower. Overall, the EGFP and RLuc recombinants were genetically stable after one viral passage. The usefulness of these reporter viruses for high-throughput fluorescence- and luminescence-based studies of HCV-receptor interactions and serum-neutralizing antibodies was demonstrated. Finally, using RLuc viruses, we showed that the genotype-specific core-NS2 sequence did not influence the response to alfa-2b interferon (IFN-alfa-2b) and that genotype 1 to 7 viruses all responded to treatment with p7 ion channel inhibitors.

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