In vivo study of the HC-TN strain of hepatitis C virus recovered from a patient with fulminant hepatitis: RNA transcripts of a molecular clone (pHC-TN) are infectious in chimpanzees but not in Huh7.5 cells
Both viral and host factors are thought to influence the pathogenesis of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. We studied strain HC-TN (genotype 1a), which caused fulminant hepatic failure in a patient and, subsequently, severe hepatitis in a chimpanzee (CH1422), to analyze the relationship between disease severity, host immune response, viral evolution, and outcome. A second chimpanzee (CH1581) was infected from CH1422 plasma, and a third chimpanzee (CH1579) was infected from RNA transcripts of a consensus cDNA of HC-TN (pHC-TN). RNA transcripts of pHC-TN did not replicate in Huh7.5 cells, which were recently found to be susceptible to infection with another fulminant HCV strain (JFH1). The courses of viremia were similar in the three animals. However, CH1581 and CH1579 developed a less severe acute hepatitis than CH1422. CH1579 and CH1422 resolved the infection, whereas CH1581 became persistently infected. CH1579 and CH1581, despite their differing outcomes, both developed significant intrahepatic cellular immune responses, but not antibodies to the envelope glycoproteins or neutralizing antibodies, during the acute infection. We analyzed the polyprotein sequences of virus recovered at five and nine time points from CH1579 and CH1581, respectively, during the first year of follow-up. High mutation rates and high proportions of nonsynonymous mutations suggested immune pressure and positive selection in both animals. Changes were not selected until after the initial decrease in virus titers and after the development of immune responses and hepatitis. Subsequently, however, mutations emerged repeatedly in both animals. Overall, our results indicate that disease severity and outcome of acute HCV infection depend primarily on the host response.