Sequence analysis of hepatitis C virus variants producing discrepant results with two different genotyping assays.
Prescott LE., Berger A., Pawlotsky JM., Conjeevaram P., Pike I., Simmonds P.
Methods for identifying the genotype of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in clinical specimens are frequently based upon the direct characterisation of viral RNA sequences by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification, or by serologically based methods, in which the infecting genotype is inferred from the pattern of antibody reactivity to type-specific peptides or recombinant proteins used as antigens in an Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA). Although genotyping by direct, PCR-based methods show generally highly concordant results with the genotype inferred from serological typing assays (> 95% agreement), there exist a small number of samples that produce discrepant results. To investigate the underlying reasons for the discrepancies, we obtained eleven samples from haemophiliacs and four samples from patients with chronic hepatitis C that produced discordant results between a PCR based assay (InnoLipa I and II) and a serotyping assay (Murex HC02). Nucleotide sequences in the 5'noncoding region (5'NCR), core, and NS4 region were used to identify the genotype of the circulating virus and to identify amino acid changes in NS4 that might alter antigenicity. In 14 samples, sequence analysis of all three regions was concordant with the results of the InnoLipa assay. There were few if any amino acid substitutions in NS4 that might have accounted for the discrepant serotyping results, which were found predominantly in samples from individuals with a history of multiple exposure to HCV. It remains unclear whether the detection of antibody in such discrepant samples corresponds to previous expression of a different genotype than detected by PCR, or whether the virus population in plasma is more restricted in genotype diversity than the population in the liver or at other sites of viral replication.