• HCV replicon;
  • NS5A;
  • ISDR

Summary.  The number of amino acid substitutions in the interferon sensitivity-determining region (ISDR) in the nonstructural 5A (NS5A) gene of hepatitis C virus (HCV) is closely associated with the interferon (IFN) response and viral load. Several HCV replicon-based studies have reported that ISDR sequences had an influence on viral replication in vitro. However, it is unclear as to how different ISDR sequences affect HCV replication. Various clinically observed ISDR sequences were introduced into HCV replicons and their contribution to viral replication was investigated using a colony formation assay and/or a transient replication assay. A mapping study of the ISDR was performed to identify the amino acid positions that critically affect replication. While no colonies were formed in the colony formation assay using HCV replicons with few mutations (0, 1 and 3) in the ISDR, numerous colonies (>200) appeared when using constructs with six mutations. Introduction of various distinct ISDR sequences with multiple mutations resulted in replication enhancement in transient assays. A mapping study identified several specific sites in the ISDR that critically affected replication, including codon 2209 which, in patients, was closely associated with a strong response to IFN. ISDR sequences associated with a clinical IFN response and viral load modulated the replication of HCV replicons, suggesting the importance of the ISDR sequence in HCV infection.