To investigate the genomic characterization of hepatitis C virus (HCV) isolated from a patient who contracted hepatitis during an epidemic of non-A, non-B (NANB) hepatitis in Shimizu city, Japan, we have cloned the nucleotide sequence of the viral genome (HCV-KF) spanning the structural domain. When compared to other previously reported HCV isolates, HCV-KF showed an overall identity at the amino acid level of 90.0 to 92.1% with Japanese isolates and 80.9 to 82.1% with American-like isolates. The HCV-KF genome displays an insertion of three nucleotides in-frame (corresponding to one amino acid) found at the junction between the E1 and E2/NS1 region. The mutation rate of the HCV-KF genome was assessed by comparing the nucleotide and deduced amino acid sequences of the viral RNA obtained from the serum of the original patient with viral sequences derived from the serum of a chimpanzee inoculated with the same serum 9 years previously. The substitution rate of the viral genome was estimated at 0.9 × 10 nucleotides per site per year for the HCV structural region. The highest mutation rate was found in the hypervariable region within the E2/NS1 domain. It is suggested that the outbreak in Shimizu city was caused by a strain of HCV closely related to the Japanese-like subgroup of isolates.


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