Background: HCV (Hepatitis C Virus) is genetically more diverse than HBV and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and exists as quasispecies within infected individuals. This is due to the lack of efficient proofreading of the viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. Consequently, quasispecies emerge depending on the mutation rate of the viral polymerase, which may display a high level of genetic variability in a population. In infected individuals, HCV replicates and circulates as quasispecies composed of a complex mixture of different but closely related genomes that undergoes continuous change due to competitive selection and cooperation between arising mutants. The aim of this study is to investigate mutations in the NS5A region as a whole, including ISDR, PKRBD, IRRDR, and V3 of HCV genotype 1b cirrhosis patients being naive and nonresponders, treated with IFN (interferon) + ribavirin (RBN) by using an ultra-deep pyrosequencing method (UDPS).
Methods: During the study, five patients (four females, and one male, mean age 59.8 ± 11 years) with HCV related cirrhosis were analyzed. Three patients received IFN + RBN for six months, but two patients did not receive any therapy. HCV-RNA concentrations in patients’ sera were determined using a COBAS AMPLICOR HCV MONITOR Test, Version 2.0. Genotyping was performed by using a commercial reverse hybridization method, Line Probe Assay. The quasispecies for the NS5A region were investigated using UDPS.
Results: All five patients were HCV genotype 1b (Mean Child-Pugh score 7.2 ± 1.9, 2 pts Child A, 2 pts Child B, and one pt Child C) but only one patient had hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). A total of 19 different mutations were detected in each of the five patients (ranging from 3 to 6 mutations per patient). In all five patients, several mutations in the ISDR and PKR-BD regions were detected. On the other hand, mutations in the V3 and IRRDR regions were only detected in one patient.
Conclusions: UDPS is a new sequencing technology and a very sensitive method in detection of quasispecies with low frequency NS5A region mutations. These mutations may affect the antiviral response and development of HCC. However, further studies in larger number of patients should be conducted to clarify this hypothesis.