Association of amino acid sequence in the PKR-eIF2 phosphorylation homology domain and response to interferon therapy



Hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotype 1b and high pretreatment virus load are well known predictive factors of poor response to interferon (IFN) therapy. In addition, a sparsity of amino acid substitutions in the interferon sensitivity determining region (ISDR) is also predictive of a poor response to IFN in patients with genotype 1b, although this issue is still controversial. Recently, a 12 amino acid domain in the E2 protein of HCV (PKR-eIF2 α phosphorylation homology domain [PePHD]) has been reported to bind with and block the virus replication inhibition ability of PKR, suggesting that the interaction of E2 and PKR may be one mechanism by which HCV circumvents the antiviral effect of IFN. To clarify the significance of amino-acid sequences in this domain in predicting the effect of IFN therapy, we analyzed 82 patients with genotype 1b. Eleven patients (13.4%) responded to treatment whereas the remaining 71 patients (86.6%) were nonresponders. Multivariate analysis showed that only HCV load and amino-acid substitutions in the ISDR were predictive of sustained response to IFN. Amino-acid substitutions in the PePHD were detected in only eight of 82 patients (9.8%), and did not correlate with the therapeutic effect of IFN. However, amino-acid–sequence analyses of quasispecies before and after 1 week of IFN therapy showed elimination of clones with substitutions in this domain. Our results suggest that amino-acid sequences of the PePHD domain may be related to viral resistance to IFN but do not predict the outcome of IFN therapy as amino-acid substitutions in this domain are rare.