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Abstract

The significance of circulating antibody to hepatitis C virus (HCV) envelope glycoprotein 2 (E2)/nonstructural protein 1 (NS1) glycoprotein was studied in 83 patients with chronic HCV infection diagnosed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). E2/NS1 antibody was quantitatively examined by a passive hemagglutination test using recombinant E2/NS1 glycoprotein encompassing amino acids 388 to 664 of the HCV-H strain. The results were correlated with clinical and virological features such as genotypes and viremic levels assessed by a competitive reverse-transcription PCR assay. E2/NS1 antibody was found in 73 patients (88%), and its occurrence was related to viremic levels. E2/NS1 antibody titers were low in asymptomatic HCV carriers with low levels of viral replication; 9 of 17 such patients tested positive for E2/NS1 antibody (53%), compared with 64 of 66 chronic hepatitis C patients (97%) (P < .01). A significant direct relationship was observed between viremic levels and E2/NS1 antibody titers (r = .52, P < .01). Of the 13 patients with low viremic levels of < 106 copies/mL, only 5 tested positive for E2/NS1 antibody (38%), whereas 68 of the 70 patients with viremic levels of > or = 106 copies/mL had it (97%) (P < .01). As for the relation to HCV genotypes, no difference was seen in E2/NS1 antibody titers among genotypes examined (1b, 2a, and 2b). These findings suggest that the E2/NS1 antibody tested exhibits no neutralizing activity in chronic HCV infection but may serve as a serological indicator of active virus replication.