Synonymous Mutations in the Core Gene Are Linked to Unusual Serological Profile in Hepatitis C Virus Infection

Institut Pasteur, Hépacivirus et Immunité Innée, CNRS URA 3015, Paris, France.
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.23). 01/2011; 6(1):e15871. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015871
Source: PubMed


The biological role of the protein encoded by the alternative open reading frame (core+1/ARF) of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) genome remains elusive, as does the significance of the production of corresponding antibodies in HCV infection. We investigated the prevalence of anti-core and anti-core+1/ARFP antibodies in HCV-positive blood donors from Cambodia, using peptide and recombinant protein-based ELISAs. We detected unusual serological profiles in 3 out of 58 HCV positive plasma of genotype 1a. These patients were negative for anti-core antibodies by commercial and peptide-based assays using C-terminal fragments of core but reacted by Western Blot with full-length core protein. All three patients had high levels of anti-core+1/ARFP antibodies. Cloning of the cDNA that corresponds to the core-coding region from these sera resulted in the expression of both core and core+1/ARFP in mammalian cells. The core protein exhibited high amino-acid homology with a consensus HCV1a sequence. However, 10 identical synonymous mutations were found, and 7 were located in the aa(99-124) region of core. All mutations concerned the third base of a codon, and 5/10 represented a T>C mutation. Prediction analyses of the RNA secondary structure revealed conformational changes within the stem-loop region that contains the core+1/ARFP internal AUG initiator at position 85/87. Using the luciferase tagging approach, we showed that core+1/ARFP expression is more efficient from such a sequence than from the prototype HCV1a RNA. We provide additional evidence of the existence of core+1/ARFP in vivo and new data concerning expression of HCV core protein. We show that HCV patients who do not produce normal anti-core antibodies have unusually high levels of anti-core+1/ARFP and harbour several identical synonymous mutations in the core and core+1/ARFP coding region that result in major changes in predicted RNA structure. Such HCV variants may favour core+1/ARFP production during HCV infection.

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    • "Abolishing the ARFP production has no effect on HCV replication in cultured cells or uPA-SCID mice, suggesting that ARFP is probably not important for the HCV reproductive cycle [8] [9]. However, detection of the specific anti-ARFP antibodies and the T-cell responses in HCV-infected patients, as reported by many independent laboratories , provided strong evidence that this protein is expressed in vivo [10] [11] [12]. "
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    ABSTRACT: The role of the protein encoded by the alternative open reading frame (ARF/F/core+1) of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) genome in viral pathogenesis remains unknown. The different forms of ARF/F/ core+1 protein were labile in cultured cells, a myc-tag fused at the N-terminus of the F protein made it more stable. To determine the role of core and F proteins in HCV pathogenesis, transgenic mice with either protein expression under the control of Albumin promoter were generated. Expression of core protein and F protein with myc tag (myc-F) could be detected by Western Blot analysis in the livers of these mice. The ratio of liver to body weight is increased for both core and myc-F transgenic mice compared to that of wild type mice. Indeed, the proliferating cell nuclear antigen protein, a proliferation marker, was up-regulated in the transgenic mice with core or myc-F protein. Further analyses by microarray and Western Blot suggested that β-catenin signaling pathway was activated by either core or myc-F protein in the transgenic mice. These transgenic mice were further treated with either Diethynitrosamine (a tumor initiator) or Phenobarbital (a tumor promoter). Phenobarbital but not Diethynitrosamine treatment could increase the liver/body weight ratio of these mice. However, no tumor formation was observed in these mice. In conclusion, HCV core and myc-F proteins could induce hepatocyte proliferation in the transgenic mice possibly through β-catenin signaling pathway.
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    ABSTRACT: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a major cause for chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma. The HCV-ARF/core+1 protein is an alternative product of HCV core-encoding sequence of unknown biological function. Highly purified HCV core and ARF/core+1 recombinant proteins from HCV genotype 1a and HCV-ARF/core+1 recombinant protein from HCV genotype 3a were expressed in Escherichia coli. Using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, we assessed the prevalence of anti-ARF/core+1 antibodies in 90 chronic hepatitis C patients infected with HCV genotypes 1a/1b or 3a, treated with pegylated interferon (Peg-IFN-a-2a) plus ribavirin. Samples derived from 92 healthy blood donors were used as negative controls. All HCV-RNA-positive serum samples reacted with core 1a antigen, while 15 (37.5%) of 40 and 14 (28%) of 50 patients infected with HCV-1a/1b and HCV-3a, respectively, were found to have anti-ARF/core+1 antibodies into their serum before treatment initiation. These antibodies were persistently present during treatment follow-up and linked to elevated levels of HCV-RNA at baseline.
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