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Hepatology. 1998 Jan;27(1):223-7.

Comparison of the rate of sequence variation in the hypervariable region of E2/NS1 region of hepatitis C virus in normal and hypogammaglobulinemic patients.

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Academic Department of Medicine, St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London, England, UK.


The hypervariable region (HVR) of the E2/NS1 region of hepatitis C virus (HCV) varies greatly between viral isolates with high rates of genomic change reported during the course of chronic infection. The HVR is thought to encode a structurally unconstrained envelope protein containing several linear B cell epitopes recognized by neutralizing antibody. It has been postulated that amino acid changes in the HVR could result from humoral immune pressure leading to the selection of escape mutants. The aim of this study was to compare the rates of nucleotide and amino acid variation in the HVR of control patients to patients with common variable immunodeficiency (CVID) where the effect of the humoral immune system is reduced. Five controls and four patients with CVID were studied. Serum samples were taken over periods of between 1 and 6 years. HCV was detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with primers derived from conserved flanking regions of the HVR. PCR products were cloned into a plasmid vector and recombinant clones identified by restriction enzyme digestion. Purified DNA from at least three individual clones from each time point was sequenced by the dideoxynucleotide chain-termination method. Consensus sequences were extracted from the three clones, and the DNA and deduced protein sequences were compared. Control patients had a mean rate of nucleotide change of 6.954 nucleotide substitutions per year, compared with patients with CVID with a rate of 0.415 nucleotide substitutions per year (P < .02). The corresponding rates for amino acid variation were 3.868 amino acid substitutions per year for the control patients compared with 0.185 amino acid substitutions per year for the patients with CVID. These findings suggest that in the absence of humoral immune selective pressure, the frequency of occurrence of genetic variation in the major viral species is reduced. The mutations occur, but in the absence of immune selection remain as minor species. The evolution of viral mutants capable of evading the host's immune system may contribute to the ability of HCV to establish chronic infection.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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