Two distinct subtypes of hepatitis C virus defined by antibodies directed to the putative core protein



Four distinct genotypes of hepatitis C virus types I, II, III and IV have been identified by comparison of nucleotide sequences of isolates from different areas of the world. We examined the possibility that hepatitis C virus may have serologically definable subtypes. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay systems were prepared by use of two synthetic peptides deduced from the putative core protein of hepatitis C virus. The following are the two peptides that were used: (a) IPKARRPEGRTWAQPGY (subtype-1) conserved in hepatitis C virus isolates with type I and type II genotypes; and (b) IPKDRRSTGKSWGKPGY (subtype-2) conserved in type III and type IV genotypes. With the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, the subtype-1 antibodies were detected in 26 (68%) of 38 subjects whose hepatitis C virus RNA had been genotyped as type I or type II, whereas subtype-2 antibodies were not detected. Inversely, the subtype-2 antibodies were detected in 10 (56%) of 18 subjects with hepatitis C virus RNA genotypes III or IV, whereas subtype-1 antibodies were detected in none of them. These results suggest that hepatitis C virus has two serologically distinguishable core antigen subtypes, corresponding to either genotype I/II or genotype III/IV. Subtyping of HCV by serological methods would contribute to tracking transmission routes of the virus, especially in cases where serum samples were not stored under conditions to preserve RNA or in infected hosts who have cleared the virus and therefore have only antibodies remaining to identify the infection. (HEPATOLOGY 1992;16:886–891.)