Hepatitis C virus genotyping: interrogation of the 5' untranslated region cannot accurately distinguish genotypes 1a and 1b

Zhenyu Chen, Karen E Weck
Journal of Clinical Microbiology 2002, 40 (9): 3127-34
Although the 5' untranslated region (5' UTR) is the most conserved region of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) genome, it has been suggested that interrogation of this region is sufficient for determination of the HCV genotype. We compared two methods of determination of the HCV genotype: (i) direct sequencing of the DNA of the NS-5b region and (ii) reverse line probe assay (LiPA; INNO-LiPA HCV II; Innogenetics N.V.) of the 5' UTR. There was 100% concordance between the two methods for genotype but only 80% concordance for subtype. A significant percentage of genotype 1a isolates were misclassified by LiPA as genotype 1b. Sequence analysis revealed that the only consistent difference in the 5' UTR for these genotype 1a isolates misclassified as genotype 1b was a single nucleotide (A/G) at position -99 of the HCV genome. All isolates with discordant results analyzed had a G at this position, consistent with LiPA determination of these samples as subtype 1b. However, sequence analysis of 222 nucleotides in the NS-5b region clearly identified all of these isolates as subtype 1a. Population distribution data from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center of over 200 samples analyzed by sequencing of the NS-5b region and over 1,000 samples analyzed by LiPA also indicated that INNO-LiPA HCV II cannot accurately differentiate HCV genotype 1a isolates from HCV genotype 1b isolates. We provide evidence that the A/G at position -99 represents a sequence polymorphism in the HCV genome that cannot differentiate subtype 1a from subtype 1b isolates. In conclusion, the 5' UTR is not heterogeneous enough for use in determination of the HCV subtype and cannot be used for differentiation of HCV genotypes 1a and 1b.

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