Sexual partners of patients infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) often have detectable HCV-specific T-cell responses in the absence of seroconversion, suggesting unapparent, spontaneously resolving infection. To determine whether differences in the evolutionary potential of bottlenecked inoculum may explain the low rate of HCV persistence after sexual exposure, we have investigated changes in the entire HCV nonstructural 3 (NS3) gene over time in a chronic carrier and compared his viral quasispecies with that of the acute-phase isolate of his sexual partner, who developed acute resolving hepatitis C. The overall rate of accumulation of mutations, estimated by regression analysis of six consecutive consensus NS3 sequences over 8 years, was 1.5 × 10 -3 mutations per site per year, with small intersample fluctuations related to changes in environmental conditions. Comparison of quasispecies parameters in one isolate of the chronic carrier with those of the acute-phase isolate of the infected partner revealed a higher heterogeneity and lower proportion of nonsynonymous mutations in the former. All NS3 sequences from the acute-phase isolate clustered with a single sequence from the chronic isolate, despite complete HLA mismatch between the patients, suggesting bottlenecking during transmission. The low risk of viral persistence after sexual exposure to HCV may be related to the selection of a limited number of viral particles carrying a particular combination of mutations which may further limit the potential of a relatively homogeneous quasispecies to rapidly diversify and overcome the immune response of the exposed host. Copyright © 2005, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.
|Journal||Journal of Virology|
|Publication status||Published - 1 Dec 2005|