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Sequence evolution of the hypervariable region in the putative envelope region E2/NS1 of hepatitis C virus is correlated with specific humoral immune responses.

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  • Research Article
  • Biology
  • Medicine


Sequence evolution of the hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) in the N terminus of E2/NS1 of hepatitis C virus (HCV) was studied retrospectively in six chimpanzees inoculated with the same genotype 1b strain, containing a unique predominant HVR1 sequence. Immediately after inoculation, all animals contained the same HVR predominant sequence. Two animals developed an acute self-limiting infection. Anti-HVR1 immunoglobulin G (IgG) was produced 40 to 60 days after inoculation and rapidly disappeared after normalization of transaminases. Another chimpanzee, previously infected with human immunodeficiency virus type 1, showed a delayed response to HVR1 epitopes after superinfection with HCV. No sequence variation of HVR1 was observed in these two animals during the transient viremia in the acute phase. Three other chimpanzees developed a chronic HCV infection. During follow up, sequence evolution occurred in two animals and their anti-HVR1 response remained at varying but detectable levels. The first mutations occurred immediately after the production of anti-HVR1 during the acute phase. However, IgM anti-HVR1 was not detectable. Remarkably, HVR1 sequences remained conserved for more than 6 years in another chronically infected animal. This correlated with the complete absence of detectable anti-HVR1 during this period. Seven years after inoculation, anti-HVR1 IgG was produced and coincided with an HVR1 alteration. These results strongly suggest the involvement of neutralizing anti-HVR antibodies in sequence evolution of HVR1 through immune selection.

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