Hepatitis C virus (HCV) research is hampered by the use of arbitrary representative isolates in cell culture and immunology. The most replicative isolate in vitro is a subtype 2a virus (JFH-1); however, genotype 1 is more prevalent worldwide and represents about 70% of infections in the United States, and genotypes differ from one another by 31% to 33% at the nucleotide level. For phylogenetic and immunologic analyses, viruses H77 and HCV-1 (both subtype 1a) are commonly used based on their historic importance. In an effort to rationally design a representative subtype 1a virus (Bole1a), we used Bayesian phylogenetics, ancestral sequence reconstruction, and covariance analysis on a curated set of 390 full-length human HCV 1a sequences from GenBank. By design, Bole1a contains variations present in widely circulating strains and matches more epitope-sized peptides in a full-genome comparison to subtype 1a isolates than any other sequence studied. Parallel analyses confirm that selected epitopes from the Bole1a genome were able to elicit a robust T cell response. In a proof of concept for infectivity, the envelope genes (E1 and E2) of Bole1a were expressed in an HIV pseudoparticle system containing HCV envelope genes and HIV nonenvelope genes with luciferase expression. The resulting Bole1a pseudoparticle robustly infected Hep3B cells. In this study, we demonstrate that a rationally designed, fully synthetic HCV genome contains representative epitopes and envelope genes that assemble properly and mediate entry into target cells.
Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is complicated by hepatic fibrosis. Hypothesizing that early fibrogenic signals may originate in cells susceptible to HCV infection, hepatocyte gene expression was analyzed from persons with chronic HCV at different stages of liver fibrosis. Four HCV-infected subjects with pre-cirrhotic liver fibrosis (Ishak fibrosis 3–5) were matched for age, race, and gender to five HCV-infected subjects with no evidence of fibrosis (Ishak fibrosis 0). Hepatocytes from each subject were isolated from liver biopsies using laser capture microdissection. Transcriptome profiling was performed on hepatocyte RNA using hybridization arrays. We found that hepatocytes in pre-cirrhotic fibrosis were depleted for genes involved in small molecule and drug metabolism, especially butyrylcholinesterase (BCHE), a gene involved in the metabolism of drugs of abuse. Differential expression of BCHE was validated in the same tissues and cross-sectionally in an expanded cohort of 143 HCV-infected individuals. In a longitudinal study, serum BCHE activity were already decreased at study inception in 19 fibrosis progressors compared to 20 fibrosis non-progressors (p<0.05). Non-progressors also had decreased BCHE activity over time compared to initial values, but these evolved a median (range) 8.6 (7.8–11.4) years after the study period inception(p<0.05). Laser captured portal tracts were enriched for immune related genes when compared to hepatocytes but pre-cirrhotic livers lost this enrichment.
Overall, we found that chronic HCV is associated with hepatocyte BCHE loss years before hepatic synthetic function is impaired. These results indicate that BCHE may be involved in the pathogenesis of HCV-related fibrosis among injection drug users.
butyrylcholinesterase; Hepacivirus; chronic HCV infection; laser capture microdissection; portal tract
To determine whether early viral dynamics and evolution predict outcome of primary acute hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection.
HCV- and HIV-negative injection drug users were enrolled prospectively and followed monthly to identify acute HCV infection using RNA detection. Subjects with more than one month between HCV RNA negative and positive visits were excluded to ensure stringent acute infection. Differences in medians of log-transformed viral RNA levels and evolutionary rates in each gene of a 5’-hemigenomic amplicon were assessed using the Mann-Whitney Rank Sum test. Correlation coefficient was calculated using Spearman Rank Order.
Initial viremia level was 50-fold higher in subjects with spontaneous clearance (compared with persistence) of primary acute HCV infection (median 7.1 versus 5.4 log10 IU/mL, P=0.002). Initial viremia level in subjects with IL-28B-C allele and clearance was higher than that in subjects with IL-28B-T allele and persistence (P=0.001). Evolutionary rates in the hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) region of E2 gene were significantly higher in self-resolvers than those in persistence subjects during early infection, whereas other genes/regions had comparable rates. All major substitutions in HVR1 in persistence subjects were convergent changes whereas over the same time interval clearance subjects displayed divergent evolution, indicating different immune responses between the two groups.
Spontaneous clearance of acute HCV infection is predicted by high initial viremia as well as favorable IL-28B genotype, and associated with rapid envelope sequence evolution. This linkage of host genetics, viral dynamics, and evolution provides new directions for mechanistic studies.
Extraordinary viral sequence diversity and rapid viral genetic evolution are hallmarks of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Viral sequence evolution has previously been shown to mediate escape from cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) and neutralizing antibody responses in acute HCV infection. HCV evolution continues during chronic infection, but the pressures driving these changes are poorly defined. We analyzed plasma virus sequence evolution in 5.2-kb hemigenomes from multiple longitudinal time points isolated from individuals in the Irish anti-D cohort, who were infected with HCV from a common source in 1977 to 1978. We found phylogenetically distinct quasispecies populations at different plasma time points isolated late in chronic infection, suggesting ongoing viral evolution and quasispecies replacement over time. We saw evidence of early pressure driving net evolution away from a computationally reconstructed common ancestor, known as Bole1b, in predicted CTL epitopes and E1E2, with balanced evolution toward and away from the Bole1b amino acid sequence in the remainder of the genome. Late in chronic infection, the rate of evolution toward the Bole1b sequence increased, resulting in net neutral evolution relative to Bole1b across the entire 5.2-kb hemigenome. Surprisingly, even late in chronic infection, net amino acid evolution away from the infecting inoculum sequence still could be observed. These data suggest that, late in chronic infection, ongoing HCV evolution is not random genetic drift but rather the product of strong pressure toward a common ancestor and concurrent net ongoing evolution away from the inoculum virus sequence, likely balancing replicative fitness and ongoing immune escape.
Vaccines designed to prevent or to treat hepatitis C viral infection must achieve maximum cross reactivity against widely divergent circulating strains. Rational approaches for sequence selection to maximize immunogenicity and minimize genetic distance across circulating strains may enhance vaccine induction of optimal cytotoxic T cell responses. We assessed T cell recognition of potential hepatitis C virus vaccine sequences generated using three rational approaches: 1) combining epitopes with predicted tight binding to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), 2) consensus sequence (most common amino acid at each position), and 3) representative ancestral sequence that had been derived using Bayesian phylogenetic tools. No correlation was seen between peptide MHC binding affinity and frequency of recognition as measured by an interferon-gamma T cell response in human leukocyte antigen-matched HCV infected individuals. Peptides encoding representative, consensus, and natural variant sequences were then tested for the capacity to expand CD8 T cell populations and to elicit cross-reactive CD8 T cell responses. CD8+ T cells expanded with representative sequence HCV generally more broadly and robustly recognized highly diverse circulating HCV strains than T cell expanded with either consensus sequence or naturally occurring sequence variants. These data support the use of representative sequence in HCV vaccine design.
Animals-human; T cells; Infections-viral; Processes-vaccination
Background & Aims
Despite recent characterization of hepatitis C virus-specific neutralizing antibodies, it is not clear to what extent immune pressure from neutralizing antibodies drives viral sequence evolution in vivo. This lack of understanding is particularly evident in acute infection, the phase when elimination or persistence of viral replication is determined and during which the importance of the humoral immune response has been largely discounted.
We analyzed envelope glycoprotein sequence evolution, and neutralization of sequential autologous hepatitis C virus pseudoparticles in eight individuals throughout acute infection.
Amino acid substitutions occurred throughout the envelope genes, primarily within the hypervariable region 1 of E2. When individualized pseudoparticles expressing sequential envelope sequences were used to measure neutralization by autologous sera, antibodies neutralizing earlier sequence variants were detected at earlier time points than antibodies neutralizing later variants, indicating clearance and evolution of viral variants in response to pressure from neutralizing antibodies. To demonstrate the effects of amino acid substitution on neutralization, site-directed mutagenesis of a pseudoparticle envelope sequence revealed amino acid substitutions in hypervariable region 1 that were responsible for a dramatic decrease in neutralization sensitivity over time. In addition, high-titer neutralizing antibodies peaked at the time of viral clearance in all spontaneous resolvers, while chronically evolving subjects displayed low-titer or absent neutralizing antibodies throughout early acute infection.
These findings indicate that during acute hepatitis C virus infection in vivo, virus-specific neutralizing antibodies drive sequence evolution and, in some individuals, play a role in determining the outcome of infection.
A recent study with flaviviruses suggested that structural dynamics of the virion impact antibody neutralization via exposure of ostensibly cryptic epitopes. To determine whether this holds true for the distantly related hepatitis C virus (HCV), whose neutralizing epitopes may be obscured by a glycan shield, apolipoprotein interactions, and the hypervariable region on the E2 envelope protein, we assessed how time and temperature of pre-incubation altered monoclonal antibody (MAb) neutralization of HCV. Notably, several MAbs showed increased inhibitory activity when pre-binding was performed at 37°C or after longer pre-incubation periods, and a corresponding loss-of-neutralization was observed when pre-binding was performed at 4°C. A similar profile of changes was observed with acute and chronic phase sera from HCV-infected patients. Our data suggest that time and temperature of incubation modulate epitope exposure on the conformational ensembles of HCV virions and thus, alter the potency of antibody neutralization.
antibody; neutralization; hepatitis C; virion; structure
Background. The HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 052 trial demonstrated that early initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission from HIV-infected adults (index participants) to their HIV-uninfected sexual partners. We analyzed HIV from 38 index-partner pairs and 80 unrelated index participants (controls) to assess the linkage of seroconversion events.
Methods. Linkage was assessed using phylogenetic analysis of HIV pol sequences and Bayesian analysis of genetic distances between pol sequences from index-partner pairs and controls. Selected samples were also analyzed using next-generation sequencing (env region).
Results. In 29 of the 38 (76.3%) cases analyzed, the index was the likely source of the partner’s HIV infection (linked). In 7 cases (18.4%), the partner was most likely infected from a source other than the index participant (unlinked). In 2 cases (5.3%), linkage status could not be definitively established.
Conclusions. Nearly one-fifth of the seroconversion events in HPTN 052 were unlinked. The association of early ART and reduced HIV transmission was stronger when the analysis included only linked events. This underscores the importance of assessing the genetic linkage of HIV seroconversion events in HIV prevention studies involving serodiscordant couples.
The genomic sequences of viruses that are highly mutable and cause chronic infection tend to diverge over time. We report that these changes represent both immune-driven selection and, in the absence of immune pressure, reversion toward an ancestral consensus. Sequence changes in hepatitis C virus (HCV) structural and nonstructural genes were studied in a cohort of women accidentally infected with HCV in a rare common-source outbreak. We compared sequences present in serum obtained 18–22 yr after infection to sequences present in the shared inoculum and found that HCV evolved along a distinct path in each woman. Amino acid substitutions in known epitopes were directed away from consensus in persons having the HLA allele associated with that epitope (immune selection), and toward consensus in those lacking the allele (reversion). These data suggest that vaccines for genetically diverse viruses may be more effective if they represent consensus sequence, rather than a human isolate.
To investigate HIV-1 molecular epidemiology in Singapore, we sequenced portions of three regions of the HIV-1 genome (protease HXB2: 2163 to 2620, gp120 HXB2: 6904 to 7628, and gp41 HXB2: 7817 to 8264) from 212 plasma samples collected between February 2008 and August 2009. From these samples, 109 (51.4%) generated interpretable data in all regions. Sixty-one (56.0%) were identified as CRF01_AE, 26 (23.9%) as subtype B and 14 (12.8%) as possible novel recombinant forms. The main novel recombinant pattern, detected in 13 sequences, had subtype B in protease and gp41 and CRF01_AE in gp120. There was intermixing of subtypes within transmission risk groups. However, 85% of subjects infected with the novel recombinant forms self-identified as men who have sex with men or bisexuals compared with only 41% of individuals infected with CRF01_AE and 62% infected with subtype B (p = 0.001).
Background & Aims
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) establishes chronic infections in 3% of the world's population. Infection leads to progressive liver disease; hepatocytes are the major site of viral replication in vivo. However, chronic infection is associated with a variety of extrahepatic syndromes, including central nervous system (CNS) abnormalities. We therefore screened a series of neural and brain-derived cell lines for their ability to support HCV entry and replication.
We used a panel of neural-derived cell lines, HCV pseudoparticles (HCVpp), and an infectious, HCV JFH-1 cell-culture system (HCVcc) to assess viral tropism.
Two independently derived neuroepithelioma cell lines (SK-N-MC and SK-PN-DW) permitted HCVpp entry. In contrast, several neuroblastoma, glioma, and astrocytoma cell lines were refractory to HCVpp infection. HCVcc infected the neuroepithelioma cell lines and established a productive infection. Permissive neuroepithelioma cells expressed CD81, scavenger receptor BI (SR-BI), and the tight junction proteins Claudin-1 (CLDN1) and occludin, whereas non-permissive neural cell lines lacked CLDN1 and in some cases SR-BI. HCVpp infection of the neuroepithelioma cells was neutralized by antibodies to CD81, SR-BI, CLDN1 and HCV E2. Furthermore, anti-CD81, interferon and the anti-NS3 protease inhibitor VX-950 significantly reduced HCVcc infection of neuroepithelioma and hepatoma cells.
Neuroepithelioma-derived cell lines express functional receptors that support HCV entry at comparable levels to that of hepatoma cells. HCV infection in vitro is not restricted to hepatic-derived cells, so HCV might infect cells of the CNS in vivo.
OCLN; neurotropism; brain; therapy; replicon; Huh-7; VX-950
HIV viruses are usually genetically homogeneous shortly after infection, and become more heterogeneous over time. We developed a high-resolution melting (HRM) assay to analyze HIV diversity without sequencing. Plasma samples from the HIVNET 012 trial were obtained from nine Ugandan mother–infant pairs. DNA amplified from the HIV gag region was analyzed to determine the number of degrees over which the DNA melted (HRM score). HRM gag DNA was also cloned and sequenced (50 clones/mother; 20 clones/infant). The median HRM score for infants (4.3, range 4.2–5.3) was higher than that for control plasmids (3.4, range 3.2–3.8, p < 0.001) and lower than that for mothers (5.7, range 4.4–7.7, p = 0.005, exact Wilcoxon rank sum test). The intraclass correlation coefficient reflecting assay reproducibility was 94% (95% CI: 89–98%). HRM scores were also compared to sequenced-based measures of HIV diversity; higher HRM scores were associated with higher genetic diversity (p < 0.001), complexity (p = 0.009), and Shannon entropy (p = 0.022), but not with length variation (p = 0.111). The HRM assay provides a novel, rapid method for assessing HIV diversity without sequencing. This assay could be applied to any region of the HIV genome or to other genetic systems that exhibit DNA diversity.
We tested the hypothesis that HIV-related immunosuppression alters the host-hepatitis C virus (HCV) interaction, resulting in fewer amino acid changing substitutions in HCV viral variants. Higher HCV RNA levels in persons coinfected with HIV compared with HCV infection alone suggests increased viral replication. If this increase is dependent on decreased immune selective pressure, then a reduced rate of nucleotide changes resulting in amino acid replacements (nonsynonymous changes, dN), would be expected.
We investigated HCV envelope sequences over time in 79 persons with chronic HCV infection that were HIV negative (group 1), or HIV positive without (group 2) or with (group 3) severe immunodeficiency. We amplified a 1026 nucleotide region of the HCV genome, which encodes a portion of the envelope glycoproteins E1 and E2, including HVR-1 for direct sequence analysis.
The overall divergence between paired sequences, dS, dN, and dN/dS all showed no significant differences among the three groups.
By measuring nucleotide substitutions in HCV sequences over time, we found no significant differences in the genetic divergence between HCV monoinfected control subjects and HIV/HCV coinfected subjects with various levels of immunodeficiency as measured by CD4+ T cell counts.
Background & Aims
We followed persons with ongoing hepatitis C virus (HCV) exposure following control of an initial HCV infection to determine whether primary control conferred protection against future persistent infections.
Twenty-two active injection drug users (IDU) who had cleared a primary hepatitis C viremia for at least 60 days were monitored monthly. Reinfection was defined as the detection of a new hepatitis C virus infection. Protection was assessed based on the magnitude and duration of viremia following reinfection and generation of T-cell and neutralizing antibody (nAb) responses
Reinfection occurred in 11 IDUs (50%) who previously spontaneously controlled primary HCV infection. Although viral clearance occurs in approximately 25% of patients with primary infections, spontaneous viral clearance was observed in 83% of reinfected patients. The duration and maximum level of viremia during subsequent episodes of reinfection were significantly decreased, compared with those of the primary infection in the same subjects. In contrast to chronic infection, reinfection was associated with a significant increase in the breadth of T-cell responses. During acute infection, nAbs against heterologous viral pseudoparticles were detected in 60% of reinfected subjects; cross-reactive nAbs are rarely detected in patients who progress to chronic infection.
HCV reinfection is associated with a reduction in the magnitude and duration of viremia (compared with the initial infection), broadened cellular immune responses, and the generation of cross-reactive humoral responses. These findings are consistent with the development of adaptive immunity that is not sterilizing but protects against chronic disease.
A subset of HIV-1-infected patients known as elite controllers or suppressors (ES) control the virus naturally. We have previously demonstrated sequence discordance between proviral and plasma gag clones in ES, much of which can be attributed to selective pressure from the host (J. R. Bailey, T. M. Williams, R. F. Siliciano, and J. N. Blankson, J. Exp. Med. 203:1357-1369, 2006). However, it is not clear whether ongoing viral replication continues in ES once the control of viremia has been established or whether selective pressure impacts this evolution. The cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) response in ES often targets Gag and frequently is superior to that of HIV-1 progressors, partially due to the HLA class I alleles B*57/5801 and B*27, which are overrepresented in ES. We therefore examined longitudinal plasma and proviral gag sequences from HLA-B*57/5801 and -B*27 ES. Despite the highly conserved nature of gag, we observed clear evidence of evolution in the plasma virus, largely due to synonymous substitutions. In contrast, evolution was rare in proviral clones, suggesting that ongoing replication in ES does not permit the significant reseeding of the latent reservoir. Interestingly, there was little continual evolution in CTL epitopes, and we detected de novo CTL responses to autologous viral mutants. Thus, some ES control viremia despite ongoing replication and evolution.
The HIV-1-specific immune responses of HLA-B*57/5801 patients who spontaneously control viral replication serve as an important model for T cell-based HIV-1 vaccines. Determining the breadth of this response and the extent of virologic escape that occur in primary infection in these patients is therefore critical. Here we document the development of mutations in 3 HLA-B*5801 restricted epitopes in gag, nef and pol in an HLA-B*5801 subject with a viral load of only 1159 copies/ml at day 167 post-infection. Thus, relative control of viral replication can be maintained in spite of the rapid development of multiple escape mutations within CTL epitopes.
Differential response patterns to optimal antiviral therapy, peginterferon alpha plus ribavirin, are well documented in patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Among many factors that may affect therapeutic efficiency, HCV quasispecies (QS) characteristics have been a major focus of previous studies, yielding conflicting results. To obtain a comprehensive understanding of the role of HCV QS in antiviral therapy, we performed the largest-ever HCV QS analysis in 153 patients infected with HCV genotype 1 strains. A total of 4,314 viral clones spanning hypervarible region 1 were produced from these patients during the first 12 weeks of therapy, followed by detailed genetic analyses. Our data showed an exponential distribution pattern of intra-patient QS diversity in this study population in which most patients (63%) had small QS diversity with genetic distance (d) less than 0.2. The group of patients with genetic distance located in the decay region (d>0.53) had a significantly higher early virologic response (EVR) rate (89.5%), which contributed substantially to the overall association between EVR and increased baseline QS diversity. In addition, EVR was linked to a clustered evolutionary pattern in terms of QS dynamic changes.
EVR is associated with elevated HCV QS diversity and complexity, especially in patients with significantly higher HCV genetic heterogeneity.
Hepatitis C virus; Quasispecies; Antiviral therapy
Background & Objectives:
We characterized HCV antibody prevalence, viral persistence, genotype and liver disease prevalence among IDUs in Chennai, India as the study of the association of HIV with each of these states is important and there are no data available.
Between 2005-2006, 1158 IDUs were recruited and followed semi-annually. All were tested for HCV antibodies at baseline; a random sample of 400 antibody positives (200 HIV-positive and 200 HIV-negative) were tested for HCV RNA; 13 of these were sequenced. Assessment of asparate amino transferase (AST)-to-platelet ratio index (APRI) was done on 557 IDUs. Prevalence ratios of each outcome were examined.
Median age was 35 yr; 99 per cent were male. HCV antibody prevalence was 55 per cent and was associated with older age, being unmarried, longer injection history, tattoo and injecting at a dealer’s place. Of the 400 HCV antibody positive IDUs, 281 (70.3%) had persistent infection which was less common among hepatitis B-infected persons but not associated with HIV. Of the 13 samples sequenced, 11 (85%) were HCV genotype 3a. Fibrosis prevalence according to APRI was: HIV/HCV-uninfected, 4 per cent; HIV mono-infected, 3 per cent; HCV mono-infected, 11 per cent; HIV/HCV co-infected, 12 per cent (P<0.001). In addition to being associated with HCV and HIV/HCV, fibrosis prevalence was higher among those drinking alcohol frequently; daily marijuana use was protective.
Interpretation & Conclusions:
Our findings show that IDUs in Chennai have high HCV prevalence and associated disease burden. The burden will increase as access to antiretroviral therapy improves particularly given the high prevalence of HIV, HCV and alcohol use.
APRI; HCV genotype; hepatitis C virus; HIV; injection drug users; liver disease
Elite controllers or suppressors (ES) are HIV-1 infected patients who maintain viral loads of < 50 copies/ml without antiretroviral therapy. CD8+ T cells are thought to play a key role in the control of viral replication and exert selective pressure on gag and nef in HLA-B*57 positive ES. We previously showed evolution in the gag gene of ES which surprisingly was mostly due to synonymous mutations rather than non-synonymous mutation in targeted CTL epitopes. This finding could be the result of structural constraints on Gag, and we therefore examined the less conserved nef gene. We found slow evolution of nef in plasma virus in some ES. This evolution is mostly due to synonymous mutations and occurs at a rate similar to that seen in the gag gene in the same patients. The results provide further evidence of ongoing viral replication in ES and suggest that the nef and gag genes in these patients respond similarly to selective pressure from the host.
During the transition from acute to chronic infection in individuals persistently infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV), cellular responses initiate within the first 6 months of primary infection and collapse thereafter, whereas humoral responses activate later during the chronic phase. Whether and how this deviation of immune responses specifically influences HCV evolution are unknown. To determine the pattern of HCV evolution during this critical period, we conducted extensive sequence analysis on annual clonal hemigenomic sequences for up to 3 years in six well-characterized subjects, using statistical methods that accounted for repeated measures. Significantly different evolutionary rates were observed in envelope versus nonenvelope genes, with an increasing rate of nonsynonymous change (dN) in envelope genes and a stable dN in nonenvelope genes (P = 0.006). The ratio of the envelope to nonenvelope nonsynonymous rate increased from 2 in year 1 to 5 in years 2 and 3. Centripetal changes (reversions toward matching of the worldwide subtype 1a consensus sequence) were frequently observed during the 3-year transition from acute infection to chronicity, even in the presence of neutralizing antibody (NAb) pressure. Remarkably, sequences of hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) remained stable for up to 21 months in the absence of NAb pressure in one subject, followed by rapid changes that were temporally associated with the detection of NAb responses, which strongly suggests that HVR1 evolution is shaped by NAb pressure. These data provide the first systematic estimates of HCV evolutionary rates in multiple genes during early infection in vivo and provide additional evidence for deterministic, rather than random, evolution of HCV.
In most human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-infected individuals who achieve viral loads of <50 copies/ml during highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), low levels of plasma virus remain detectable for years by ultrasensitive methods. The relative contributions of ongoing virus replication and virus production from HIV-1 reservoirs to persistent low-level viremia during HAART remain controversial. HIV-1 vaccination of HAART-treated individuals provides a model for examining low-level viremia, as immunizations may facilitate virus replication and sequence evolution. In a phase 1 trial of modified vaccinia virus Ankara/fowlpox virus-based HIV-1 vaccines in 20 HIV-infected young adults receiving HAART, we assessed the prevalence of low-level viremia and sequence evolution, using ultrasensitive viral load (<6.5 copies/ml) and genotyping (five-copy sensitivity) assays. Viral evolution, consisting of new drug resistance mutations and novel amino acid changes within a relevant HLA-restricted allele (e.g., methionine, isoleucine, glutamine, or arginine for leucine at position 205 of RT), was found in 1 and 3 of 20 subjects, respectively. Sequence evolution was significantly correlated with levels of viremia of between 6.5 and <50 copies/ml (P = 0.03) and was more likely to occur within epitopes presented by relevant HLA alleles (P < 0.001). These findings suggest that ongoing virus replication contributes to low-level viremia in patients on HAART and that this ongoing replication is subject to CD8+ T-cell selective pressures.
HCV is an important human pathogen that represents a model for chronic infection since the majority of infected individuals fail to clear the infection despite generation of virus-specific T cell responses during the period of acute infection. While viral sequence evolution at targeted MHC class I restricted epitopes represents one mechanism for immune escape in HCV, many targeted epitopes remain intact under circumstances of viral persistence. In order to explore alternative mechanisms of HCV immune evasion, we analyzed patterns of expression of a major inhibitory receptor on T cells, programmed death-1 (PD-1), from the time of initial infection and correlated these with HCV RNA levels, outcome of infection, and sequence escape within the targeted epitope. We show that the level of PD-1 expression in early HCV infection is significantly higher on HCV-specific T cells from those who progress to chronic HCV infection compared to those who clear infection. This correlation is independent of HCV RNA levels, compatible with the notion that high PD-1 expression on HCV-specific CD8 T cells during acute infection inhibits viral clearance. Viral escape during persistent infection is associated with reduction in PD-1 levels on the surface of HCV specific T cells, supporting the necessity of ongoing antigenic stimulation of T cells for maintenance of PD-1 expression. These results support the idea that PD-1 expression on T cells specific for nonescaped epitopes contributes to viral persistence and suggest that PD-1 blockade may alter the outcome of HCV infection.
CD8+ T cells; HCV infection; Programmed Death-1; Viral Escape
To determine if lower levels of hepatitis C virus (HCV)-specific neutralizing antibodies (nAb) are associated with an increased risk of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HCV, anti-HCV nAb titers were assessed in 63 mothers co-infected with HCV and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV). Among the mothers, 16 transmitted HCV to their infant but no difference was detected between the ability of maternal plasma from transmitters and non-transmitters to neutralize heterologous HCV pseudoparticles (median nAb titer 1:125 vs. 1:100, P=0.23). In the setting of HIV/HCV co-infection, we found no evidence that anti-HCV nAbs are associated with prevention of MTCT of HCV.
HCV; HIV; mother-to-infant transmission; perinatal transmission; hepatitis C virus; neutralizing antibody; HCVpp; MTCT