Influence of viral quasispecies on effectiveness of interferon therapy in chronic hepatitis C patients



The quasispecies nature of hepatitis C virus genome distribution is most evident in hypervariable regions of the putative envelope 2 domain. Eight patients with chronic hepatitis C treated with interferon-α were studied as to heterogeneity of the hypervariable regions to clarify the implications of quasispecies. More than 10 recombinant clones generated from polymerase chain reaction-amplified products of the hypervariable regions were sequenced. The sets of clones derived from long-term responders before interferon therapy showed a significantly lower (p < 0.05) degree of sequence complexity of the hypervariable region 1 quasispecies than those from short-term ones or nonresponders. The values of nucleotide diversity (the average number of nucleotide differences per site between two randomly chosen sequences) in hypervariable region 1 before interferon therapy were also significantly lower (p < 0.05) for long-term responders (mean, 2.31 × 10) than for short-term ones or nonresponders (13.02 × 10−2). In some cases, nucleotide diversity decreased remarkably during interferon therapy, whereas the values remained unchanged in other cases. In one interesting case, a short-term response was first noted with the nucleotide diversity decreasing from 13.98 × 10−2 to 0.21 × 10−2; namely, the diversity of the quasispecies was significantly reduced, and then a long-term response was observed after an additional course of interferon therapy. Thus, the degree of quasispecies' complexity and diversity of hypervariable region 1 was closely correlated with the responsiveness to interferon therapy in chronic hepatitis C patients, and thus may have some influence on interferon efficacy. (Hepatology 1994;20:1121–1130).