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J Virol. 1994 March; 68(3): 1494–1500.
PMCID: PMC236605

Neutralizing antibodies against hepatitis C virus and the emergence of neutralization escape mutant viruses.


We developed an in vitro assay for antibodies to hepatitis C virus (HCV) that bind to virions and prevent initiation of the replication cycle in susceptible cells in vitro. These antibodies therefore appear to be capable of neutralizing the virus. Using this assay and a standard inoculum of HCV of known infectivity, we have measured the antibody in serial serum samples obtained from the same chronically infected patient over 14 years following onset of his hepatitis. Such antibody was found in sera collected within 5 years of onset of hepatitis but not in later sera. In double immunoprecipitation experiments with anti-human immunoglobulin, the same sera that contained neutralizing antibody were found to contain antibody that bound to HCV to form antigen-antibody complexes immunoprecipitable with anti-human globulin. Similarly, plasma collected from this patient in 1990, 13 years after onset of hepatitis, and which contained HCV that had diverged genetically from the 1977 strain, did not contain antibody capable of neutralizing either the 1977 or the 1990 strain of HCV. However, plasma collected a year later (1991, 14 years after onset of hepatitis) contained neutralizing antibody to the 1990, but not the 1977, strain of HCV. These results suggest that HCV does induce antivirion antibody, as measured by blocking of initiation of the replication cycle of virus in cells and by the formation of immunoprecipitable antigen-antibody complexes but that these antibodies are isolate specific and change over time. Thus, these antivirion antibodies function as neutralizing antibodies and are probably in vitro correlates of the attempt of the host to contain the emergence of neutralization-resistant variants of HCV over time.

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