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J Clin Microbiol. 1997 Dec;35(12):3062-70.

Antigenic variation of core, NS3, and NS5 proteins among genotypes of hepatitis C virus.

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Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom.


Assays that detect antibody to hepatitis C virus (HCV) are used to screen blood donors and patients with hepatitis. Current enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)-based methods are invariably based upon antigens from expressed recombinant proteins or oligopeptides from HCV type 1. Some HCV antigens used in screening assays are coded by regions of the HCV genome that show extensive variability; therefore, HCV type 1-based assays may be less effective for the detection of antibody elicited by infection with other genotypes. In this study, we have measured antibody reactivity of sera from 110 hepatitis C patients infected with type 1b, 3a, or 4a to genotype-specific and cross-reactive epitopes present in recombinant proteins from HCV genotypes 1b (core, NS3, and NS5), 3a (NS3, NS5), and 4a (core, NS3), corresponding to those used in current third-generation screening ELISAs. By comparing the serological reactivities of sera to type-homologous and type-heterologous antigens, we detected a significant type-specific component to the reactivity to NS3 (61 to 77% of the total reactivity) and NS5 (60% of the total reactivity). Furthermore, despite the similarities in the amino acid sequences of the core antigens of type 1b and type 4a, we also found significantly greater reactivity to type-homologous antigens, with approximately 25% of reactivity being type specific. These findings are consistent with previous findings of fivefold weaker reactivity of sera from HCV type 2- and HCV type 3-infected blood donors in the currently used third-generation ELISAs and suggest that these assays are suboptimal for screening populations in which the predominant genotype is not type 1.

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