To evaluate the possibility that distinct viral quasispecies play a role in the pathogenesis of progressive hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, we performed a detailed evaluation of HCV quasispecies before and after liver transplantation in five patients infected with HCV genotype 1, three of whom developed severe recurrent hepatitis C and two of whom developed asymptomatic posttransplant infections with high-titered viremia. HCV quasispecies were characterized by using a combination of nucleotide sequencing plus heteroduplex tracking assay of the second envelope gene hypervariable region (HVR). An average of 30 HVR clones were analyzed per specimen; an average of five specimens were analyzed per patient over a 6- to 24-month study period. The complexity of HCV quasispecies in pretransplant serum varied, ranging from one to nine genetically distinct variants for the five patients. However, in all five cases, relatively homogenous quasispecies variants emerged after liver transplantation. In the three patients who developed recurrent hepatitis, quasispecies major variants present in pretransplant serum were efficiently propagated immediately after liver transplantation and were propagated throughout the course of acute and chronic hepatitis. In contrast, in the two asymptomatic cases, we observed rapid depletion of pretransplant quasispecies major variants from posttransplant serum, followed by emergence of new quasispecies variants by posttransplant day 30. Genetic analysis suggested that in these cases, the new quasispecies variants were derived from minor variants present at relatively low clonal frequency (less than 5% of HVR clones) within the pretransplant quasispecies populations. These data demonstrate that quasispecies tracking patterns are associated with the rapidity and severity of HCV-associated liver disease after liver transplantation. Further characterization of HCV quasispecies in animal model systems is warranted
To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.