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Abstract

Chimpanzees remain the only recognized animal model for the study of hepatitis C virus (HCV). Studies performed in chimpanzees played a critical role in the discovery of HCV and are continuing to play an essential role in defining the natural history of this important human pathogen. In the absence of a reproducible cell culture system, the infectivity titer of HCV challenge pools can be determined only in chimpanzees. Recent studies in chimpanzees have provided new insight into the nature of host immune responses—particularly the intrahepatic responses—following primary and secondary experimental HCV infections. The immunogenicity and efficacy of vaccine candidates against HCV can be tested only in chimpanzees. Finally, it would not have been possible to demonstrate the infectivity of infectious clones of HCV without chimpanzees. Chimpanzees became infected when RNA transcripts from molecular clones were inoculated directly into the liver. The infection generated by such transfection did not differ significantly from that observed in animals infected intravenously with wild-type HCV. The RNA inoculated into chimpanzees originated from a single sequence, and the animals therefore had a monoclonal HCV infection. Monoclonal infection simplifies studies of HCV, because virus interaction with the host is not confounded by the quasispecies invariably present in a natural infection. It furthermore permits true homologous challenge in studies of protective immunity and in testing the efficacy of vaccine candidates. Finally, this in vivo transfection system has made it possible to test for the first time the importance of genetic elements for HCV infectivity. (HEPATOLOGY 2004;39:1469–1475.)