Recently, we reported that hepatitis C virus (HCV) can be classified genetically into two types, HCV-K1 and HCV-K2, which show 67% and 71% identity at the nucleotide and amino acid sequence levels in a 340 bp region which encodes the NS5 gene Gly-Asp-Asp motif. To develop a rapid method to classify the genomes of HCV isolates, we identified restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) in reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction products encoding a portion of the NS5 gene. I and II enabled HCV to be classified into the K1 and K2 types, and 96I enabled classification into the K1 type, and the K2a and K2b subtypes. These RFLPs also generally allow Japanese isolates to be distinguished from the prototype (PT, an isolate from the U.S.A.), which is a K1 type. Sequence analysis of the 5′-untranslated regions of Japanese isolates revealed near identity between the K1 type and PT, and 93 to 94% identity between the K1 and K2 types, indicating that there are type K1- and K2-specific RFLPs in this region. Our results suggest that the nucleotide sequences of the K1 and K2 types are different throughout the HCV genome. The incidence of HCV types K1, K2a and K2b, and PT in 50 samples was 74%, 16%, 8% and 2%, respectively.


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