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Abstract

The viral genotype may influence the response to interferon (IFN) treatment in chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. To characterize potential mechanisms responsible for this effect, we assessed whether IFN modulation of HCV-specific T-cell responses differs in patients infected by different genotypes. The T-cell response to HCV core protein was sequentially analyzed before and during IFN treatment in two groups of patients chronically infected with HCV genotype 1b (eight patients) or 2c (eight patients). Overlapping 20 mer peptides corresponding to the amino acid sequence of the prevalent viral population identified in the serum of each patient were used for the analysis of the T-cell proliferative response to avoid possible problems caused by amino acid differences between infecting virus and HCV proteins used in vitro. Recombinant HCV core antigen was used in parallel. The level of viremia was monitored by competitive polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The T-cell response to HCV peptides and recombinant core protein detected throughout the follow-up was significantly more vigorous in genotype 2c- than in genotype 1b-infected patients. This difference was the result of a greater enhancement of the T-cell response caused by IFN treatment in genotype 2c-compared with genotype 1b-infected patients. The different IFN modulatory effect on T cells from genotype 1b- and genotype 2c-infected patients illustrates an aspect of the virus-host interaction, which may contribute toward the explanation of why different genotypes differ in responsiveness to IFN treatment.