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UNLABELLED: Recombinant hepatitis C virus (HCV) clones propagated in human hepatoma cell cultures yield relatively low infectivity titers. Here, we adapted the JFH1-based Core-NS2 recombinant SA13/JFH1C3405G,A3696G (termed SA13/JFH1orig), of the poorly characterized genotype 5a, to Huh7.5 cells, yielding a virus with greatly improved spread kinetics and an infectivity titer of 6.7 log10 focus-forming units (FFU)/ml. We identified several putative adaptive amino acid changes. In head-to-head infections at fixed multiplicities of infection, one SA13/JFH1orig mutant termed SA13/JFH1Core-NS5B, containing 13 amino acid changes (R114W and V187A [Core]; V235L [E1]; T385P [E2]; L782V [p7]; Y900C [NS2]; N2034D, E2238G, V2252A, L2266P, and I2340T [NS5A]; A2500S and V2841A [NS5B]), displayed fitness comparable to that of the polyclonal high-titer adapted virus. Single-cycle virus production assays in CD81-deficient Huh7-derived cells demonstrated that these changes did not affect replication but increased HCV assembly and specific infectivity as early as 24 h posttransfection. Infectious coculture assays in Huh7.5 cells showed a significant increase in cell-to-cell transmission for SA13/JFH1Core-NS5B viruses as well as viruses with only p7 and nonstructural protein mutations. Interestingly, the E2 hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) mutation T385P caused (i) increased sensitivity to neutralizing patient IgG and human monoclonal antibodies AR3A and AR4A and (ii) increased accessibility of the CD81 binding site without affecting the usage of CD81 and SR-BI. We finally demonstrated that SA13/JFH1orig and SA13/JFH1Core-NS5B, with and without the E2 mutation T385P, displayed similar biophysical properties following iodixanol gradient ultracentrifugation. This study has implications for investigations requiring high virus concentrations, such as studies of HCV particle composition and development of whole-virus vaccine antigens. IMPORTANCE: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major global health care burden, affecting more than 150 million people worldwide. These individuals are at high risk of developing severe end-stage liver diseases. No vaccine exists. While it is possible to produce HCV particles resembling isolates of all HCV genotypes in human hepatoma cells (HCVcc), production efficacy varies. Thus, for several important studies, including vaccine development, in vitro systems enabling high-titer production of diverse HCV strains would be advantageous. Our study offers important functional data on how cell culture-adaptive mutations identified in genotype 5a JFH1-based HCVcc permit high-titer culture by affecting HCV genesis through increasing virus assembly and HCV fitness by enhancing the virus specific infectivity and cell-to-cell transmission ability, without influencing the biophysical particle properties. High-titer HCVcc like the one described in this study may be pivotal in future vaccine-related studies where large quantities of infectious HCV particles are necessary.

Original publication




Journal article


J Virol

Publication Date





7758 - 7775


Cell Line, Tumor, Genotype, Hepacivirus, Hepatitis C, Humans, Mutation, Peptide Fragments, Recombination, Genetic, Serial Passage, Tetraspanin 28, Viral Core Proteins, Viral Nonstructural Proteins, Virus Assembly