Influence of the dynamics of the hypervariable region 1 of hepatitis C virus (HCV) on the histological severity of HCV recurrence after liver transplantation



Recurrence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection after liver transplantation is almost universal and usually leads to chronic hepatitis with different degrees of severity. The pathogenic mechanisms underlying the variable outcome of HCV infection recurrence are not well defined, but recent data suggest that the dynamics of HCV quasispecies may be involved. HCV quasispecies evolution was traced by longitudinal single strand conformation polymorphism, direct sequencing, and cloning analyses of pre- and post-transplant HCV-1b isolates from patients with histologically severe (seven cases) or mild or moderate (nine cases) HCV infection recurrence. Differences between the two groups of patients that concerned the level of viremia or the degree of HCV quasispecies complexity and diversity were not observed at any of the three time points analyzed. However, emergence of nucleotide and amino acid changes during the 12 months follow-up was significantly more frequent in patients with mild or moderate than in those with severe HCV infection recurrence. The ratio of non-synonymous to synonymous nucleotide substitutions 12 months after transplantation was also greater in the former, suggesting that the HVR1 of HCV is under stronger selective pressure in these subjects. These findings suggest that the degree of amino acid diversification in the HVR1 of HCV, which probably reflects the strength of immune pressure on HCV, is inversely related to the histological severity of HCV infection recurrence. J. Med. Virol. 65:266–275, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.