Hepatitis C virus is reported to have a low buoyant density in sucrose. To determine the density of hepatitis C virus in the circulation of infected hosts and its association with the degree of liver inflammation, we examined serum samples from 10 patients who were positive for both hepatitis C virus antibody (C100 antigen) antibody and serum hepatitis C virus RNA. After the serum was ultracentrifuged in sucrose density gradient (10 to 60), the hepatitis C virus RNA titer in each collected fraction was quantified by means of competitive reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction. In samples from five blood donors, the hepatitis C virus RNA titer had a single peak at fractions with densities of 1.08 to 1.11 gm/ml. In samples from five patients with ALT abnormalities, the titer had two peaks at fractions with 1.09 to 1.10 gm/ml and 1.22 to 1.25 gm/ml. After the selected samples were treated with detergents and ultracentrifuged, the titer in the 1.08 to 1.11 gm/ml fractions decreased and that in the 1.22 to 1.25 gm fractions increased. This result implied that the hepatitis C virus density changed with removal of the viral envelope by lipid solvents. Thus the buoyant density of hepatitis C virus in sucrose was 1.08 to 1.11 gm/ml for an intact virion and 1.22 to 1.25 gm/ml for what was presumed to be a nucleocapsid. These results demonstrated that HCV virion is a dominant form in the circulation of blood donors without ALT abnormalities. In patients with liver inflammation HCV particles with higher densities of 1.22 to 1.25 gm/ml coexist with virion in the circulation, which might be presumed nucleocapsids. (Hepatology 1994;19:296–302).
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