The degree of variability in the amino terminal region of the E2/NS1 protein of hepatitis C virus correlates with responsiveness to interferon therapy in viremic patients



We investigated amino acid heterogeneity in the variable regions of the E2/NS1 viral protein in interferon-responsive and interferon-nonresponsive patients with chronic hepatitis C virus infection. The study assessed whether any particular heterogeneity pattern(s) could be useful in predicting responsiveness to interferon treatment. The nucleic acid sequences of the hepatitis C virus genome were analyzed from six patients with chronic hepatitis treated with an interferon-β, three of whom did not respond to the therapy and another three who showed remarkable improvement in the serum levels of liver enzymes and hepatitis C virus RNA after 6 mo. The complementary DNA clones propagated from each of the nonresponders showed significant diversity of both nucleotide and amino acid sequence, especially at the hypervariable region 1 within the putative E2/NS1 gene of the virus, suggesting that these patients were infected with a large heterogeneous pool of hepatitis C virus variants. In contrast, the responders showed little or no diversity in the sequence of the complementary DNA clones, suggesting that they were infected with one or a small population of viral genotypes containing significantly less variability in the E2/NS1 hypervariable region 1. These results suggested that a large variable population of hepatitis C virus genotypes is implicated in patients who are nonresponders to interferon treatment. In addition, a significant change in the hepatitis C virus genotype population was observed in nonresponders after interferon treatment. This may reflect a differential viral sensitivity to interferon, selective immune pressure by the host or both. (HEPATOLOGY 1992;16:619–624.)