It is unclear whether the sequence populations of hepatitis C virus (HCV) quasispecies in the liver and in serum are different, as a variety of studies on this subject provide conflicting results. In the current study, the populations of HCV 5' untranslated region (5' UTR) sequences in paired serum and liver samples from six patients with chronic hepatitis were analysed. Liver-derived, negative-strand viral RNA was amplified with a highly strand-specific Tth-based assay, and extensive measures, including accounting for template copy number, were undertaken to lower the risk of sporadic artefactual polymorphism. Amplified sequences were compared by single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis and by direct sequencing of identified differences. In four patients, liver samples were found to contain variants within the quasispecies which were not found in serum or negative-strand viral RNA, while in the remaining two patients, low virus titre prevented a reliable quasispecies analysis. These results suggest the presence in the same individual of HCV variants differing in the 5' UTR and possibly replicating with different kinetics.
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