An ELISA was used to detect a protein derived from the core gene of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in human plasma. The solid phase antibody in the assay was a murine monoclonal antibody against a synthetic peptide deduced from the putative core gene of HCV (residues 39 to 74). An enzyme-labelled affinity-purified human antibody directed at another region within the HCV core (residues 5 to 23) was the second antibody tracer. The ELISA had a sensitivity capable of detecting a few ng/ml of the HCV core polypeptide expressed in . Core antigen activity in plasma of infected hosts was detected after treatment of HCV RNA-rich fractions from buoyant density centrifugation with the detergent Tween 80. There was a direct correlation between core antigen ELISA values of a plasma fraction and intensities of polymerase chain reaction signals for HCV RNA. These observations are consistent with the proposal that the N-terminal sequence of the predicted polyprotein of HCV is a nucleocapsid protein, and that improved core antigen assays may correlate with viraemia.


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