Hepatic fibrosis is the primary mediator of disease due to chronic infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV). HCV exists as a quasispecies in each infected individual, and longitudinal viral sequence changes may reveal viral dynamics and the selection pressures applied by the host immune system. Thus, we hypothesized that patterns of sequence change might reveal the immunopathogenesis of fibrosis progression. We tested this hypothesis by studying individuals enrolled in a prospective study of chronic HCV-related hepatic fibrosis with little or no fibrosis at first biopsy (stage 0 or 1) and a second planned liver biopsy sample obtained 4 years later. Serum was obtained from five individuals with fast progression (FP; defined as a >2-stage change between visits) and 10 carefully matched individuals with slow progression (SP; defined as a <2-stage change between visits). We sequenced multiple cloned hemigenomic cDNAs from each person spanning six genes (core through NS3). Phylogenetic analysis revealed temporal shifts in phylogenetic clustering over time, suggesting frequent quasispecies replacement rather than simple diversification. In addition, mixed infections were detected in three subjects, with coexistence in two subjects (one FP, one SP) of subtypes 1a and 1b throughout the 4-year biopsy interval. Subjects with FP had a higher rate of evolution than subjects with SP, with a preponderance of synonymous changes, suggesting purifying selection, except in hypervariable region 1, where positive selection pressure is frequently detected. Thus, in a small but carefully matched cohort we found evidence for rapid neutral evolution of HCV in persons with rapid progression of hepatic fibrosis, suggesting higher turnover of infected cells.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science