A total of 240 stored serum specimens from 30 transfusion recipients and 120 blood donors from the Transfusion-Transmitted Viruses Study (TTVS) were evaluated with the objective of establishing transmission of hepatitis C virus (HCV) by specific blood donors. Phylogenetic analysis of hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) and HCV genotyping were performed on the genomic region encoding amino acids 329 to 410. Amino acid distances between HVR1 sequences were calculated by the Kimura formula. Bootstrap analysis of HVR1 sequences provided support for linking recipients to specific donors. Linear regression analysis showed no differences between donor and recipient HVR1 sequences 7.9 weeks posttransfusion, but donor and recipient sequences diverged thereafter (r = 0.690). The initial lag phase in the evolution of HVR1 in the infected recipient was attributed to the time required to mount host immunologic defenses against the virus. Within-recipient divergence in HVR1 was determined from analyses of serial specimens collected within 2 weeks after the alanine transaminase peak, at the end of the original study (1974-1979), and in the follow-up study (1987-present). HVR1 remained invariant over a period of 6.7 to 9.5 days (95% CI) during acute infection. Within-patient divergence in HVR1 increased over a period of 11 to 15 years (r = 0.771), reaching the degree of divergence observed between unlinked subjects. In cases in which transfusion involved more than one HCV subtype, only one of the HCV subtypes established infection in the recipient. Subtype-specific differences in HVR1 were shown.
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