Hepatitis C virus continuously escapes from neutralizing antibody and T-cell responses during chronic infection in vivo.
von Hahn T., Yoon JC., Alter H., Rice CM., Rehermann B., Balfe P., McKeating JA.
BACKGROUND & AIMS: Broadly reactive neutralizing antibodies (nAbs) and multispecific T-cell responses are generated during chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and yet fail to clear the virus. This study investigated the development of autologous nAb and HCV-glycoprotein-specific T-cell responses and their effects on viral sequence evolution during chronic infection in order to understand the reasons for their lack of effectiveness. METHODS: Numerous E1E2 sequences were amplified and sequenced from serum samples collected over a 26-year period from patient H, a uniquely well-characterized, chronically infected individual. HCV pseudoparticles (HCVpp) expressing the patient-derived glycoproteins were generated and tested for their sensitivity to neutralization by autologous and heterologous serum antibodies. RESULTS: A strain-specific nAb response developed early in infection (8 weeks postinfection), whereas cross-reactive antibodies able to neutralize HCVpp-bearing heterologous glycoproteins developed late in infection (>33 wk postinfection). The humoral response continuously failed to neutralize viruses bearing autologous glycoprotein sequences that were present in the serum at a given time. The amplified glycoprotein sequences displayed high variability, particularly in regions corresponding to defined linear B-cell epitopes. Mutations in defined neutralizing epitopes were associated with a loss of recognition by monoclonal antibodies against these epitopes and with decreased neutralization of corresponding HCVpp. Viral escape from CD4 and CD8 T-cell responses also was shown for several novel epitopes throughout the glycoprotein region. CONCLUSIONS: During chronic infection HCV is subjected to selection pressures from both humoral and cellular immunity, resulting in the continuous generation of escape variants.