Phylogenetic analysis of a coding region, or even more, the complete genome, is considered the gold standard for identifying different HCV genotypes (6
). However, since this method is expensive and time-consuming, it is impractical for large-scale genotyping projects (8
). For this reason, commercial genotyping kits were developed for routine determination of HCV genotypes. Most commercially available HCV genotyping assays, including Versant HCV genotype assay (LiPA) 1.0, use the 5′UTR, since this region is highly conserved and therefore well suited for the development of detection methods. The reliability of genotyping methods highly depends on the amount of information (i.e., the number of informative sites) that is utilized for the discrimination of genetic variants. The 5′UTR is sufficiently variable for discrimination of HCV genotypes 1 to 5 and most subtypes of HCV genotype 6 (12
). However, it does not allow discrimination of HCV genotype 6 subtypes c to l from HCV genotype 1 and has only a limited subtyping accuracy (5
). To overcome the limitations of the 5′UTR, a new assay which uses additional sequence information from the core region of the HCV genome, Versant HCV genotype assay (LiPA) 2.0, has recently been developed (20
). In this study, we evaluated the new assay and compared it with the previous version of the assay.
Our results indicate that Versant HCV genotype assay (LiPA) 2.0 yielded an interpretable genotype result for 96.0% of the samples and that 99.4% of the interpretable results agreed with the reference method, rendering it an accurate and reliable assay suitable for large-scale genotyping. This new assay outperforms the previous version of the line probe assay, since Versant HCV genotype assay (LiPA) 1.0 has an overall accuracy of 74%, taking subtype information into account (8
In the comparison study, eight specimens showed discordant results when tested with both assays. The NS5b sequencing results for these samples showed that Versant HCV genotype assay (LiPA) 2.0 gave the correct HCV genotype and subtype and thereby showed an improvement in identifying HCV-positive samples which are subtypes c to l of genotype 6 and in identifying the correct subtype of genotype 1. This improvement can be attributed to the additional information available from the core region of the HCV genome, which can better distinguish between genotype 1 and subtypes c to l of genotype 6 and between subtype a and b of genotype 1. This core information is not available in Versant HCV genotype assay (LiPA) 1.0, and this can lead to misinterpretation. For example, in a study by Chinchai et al., this assay could not discriminate HCV genotype 6a variants from HCV genotype 1b, and two samples found to be genotype 1 by the assay contained genotype 3 core sequences (5
). Chen and Weck showed that Versant HCV genotype assay (LiPA) 1.0 cannot accurately distinguish HCV genotypes 1a and 1b, since in most cases, the 5′UTR is not heterogeneous enough for use in determining the HCV subtype (4
). Several other studies report on moderate distinction at the subtype level (1
). This is not surprising, since the 5′UTR is the most highly conserved region of the HCV genome, and only one or two nucleotide changes distinguish unique subtypes. Assigning correct genotypes and subtypes to HCV specimens is important for several research purposes, including epidemiological, phylogenetic, and natural history studies. Some studies even report that there is a slight difference in treatment outcomes between HCV genotype 1a- and HCV genotype 1b-infected patients, showing that correct subtype assignment is indispensable (3
In conclusion, Versant HCV genotype assay (LiPA) 2.0 provides a rapid, sensitive, and accurate means of HCV genotyping and can be used as a routine tool to distinguish between the different HCV genotypes and subtypes. Considering the importance of genotype determination in understanding the epidemiology of the virus and in the management of hepatitis C treatment strategies, efficient genotyping tools are indispensable in clinical diagnostic settings.