Efficient replication of genotype 3a and 4a hepatitis C virus replicons in human hepatoma cells.
Saeed M., Scheel TKH., Gottwein JM., Marukian S., Dustin LB., Bukh J., Rice CM.
Despite recent advances in the treatment of hepatitis C, the quest for pan-genotype, effective, and well-tolerated inhibitors continues. To facilitate these efforts, it is desirable to have in vitro replication systems for all major HCV genotypes. However, cell culture replication systems exist for only genotypes 1a, 1b, and 2a. In this study, we generated G418-selectable subgenomic replicons for prototype strains of genotypes 3a (S52) and 4a (ED43). Production of G418-resistant colonies by S52 and ED43 in Huh-7.5 cells required the amino acid substitutions S2210I and R2882G, respectively, cell culture adaptive mutations originally reported for genotype 1b replicons. RNA replication was confirmed by quantitative reverse transcription-PCR and detection of viral protein. Sequencing of multiple independent replicon clones revealed the presence of additional nonsynonymous mutations. Interestingly, all potentially adaptive mutations mapped to the NS3 protein. These mutations, when introduced back into original constructs, substantially increased colony formation efficiency. To make these replicons useful for high-throughput screening and evaluation of antiviral compounds, they were modified to express a chimeric fusion protein of firefly luciferase and neomycin phosphotransferase to yield stable replicon-expressing cells. Using these constructs, the inhibitory effects of beta interferon (IFN-β), an NS3 protease inhibitor, and an NS5B nucleoside polymerase inhibitor were readily detected by monitoring luciferase activity. In conclusion, we have established functional replicons for HCV genotypes 3a and 4a, important new additions to the armamentarium required to develop inhibitors with a pan-genotype activity.