In vivo adaptation of hepatitis C virus in chimpanzees for efficient virus production and evasion of apoptosis


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.

  • Supported by grants-in-aid from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare of Japan, and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, by the Research on Health Sciences Focusing on Drug Innovation from the Japan Health Sciences Foundation, and in part by the Intramural Research Program of the NIDDK, NIH (T. J. L.).


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) employs various strategies to establish persistent infection that can cause chronic liver disease. Our previous study showed that both the original patient serum from which the HCV JFH-1 strain was isolated and the cell culture–generated JFH-1 virus (JFH-1cc) established infection in chimpanzees, and that infected JFH-1 strains accumulated mutations after passage through chimpanzees. The aim of this study was to compare the in vitro characteristics of JFH-1 strains emerged in each chimpanzee at early and late stages of infection, as it could provide an insight into the phenomenon of viral persistence. We generated full-genome JFH-1 constructs with the mutations detected in patient serum-infected (JFH-1/S1 and S2) and JFH-1cc–infected (JFH-1/C) chimpanzees, and assessed their effect on replication, infectious virus production, and regulation of apoptosis in cell culture. The extracellular HCV core antigen secreted from JFH-1/S1-, S2-, and C-transfected HuH-7 cells was 2.5, 8.9, and 2.1 times higher than that from JFH-1 wild-type (JFH-1/wt) transfected cells, respectively. Single cycle virus production assay with a CD81-negative cell line revealed that the strain JFH-1/S2, isolated from the patient serum-infected chimpanzee at a later time point of infection, showed lower replication and higher capacity to assemble infectious virus particles. This strain also showed productive infection in human hepatocyte–transplanted mice. Furthermore, the cells harboring this strain displayed lower susceptibility to the apoptosis induced by tumor necrosis factor α or Fas ligand compared with the cells replicating JFH-1/wt. Conclusion: The ability of lower replication, higher virus production, and less susceptibility to cytokine-induced apoptosis may be important for prolonged infection in vivo. Such control of viral functions by specific mutations may be a key strategy for establishing persistent infection. (HEPATOLOGY 2011;)