Hepatitis C virus (HCV) exists in vivo as a highly variable mixture of closely related genomes (quasispecies), but the pathogenetic significance of such heterogeneity is still largely unknown. To investigate this issue, we compared the composition of HCV quasispecies found in the liver, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and plasma of ten patients by single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis of the E2/NS1 region and sequencing of the variants detected. We found considerable quasispecies differences between the liver and PBMC in all the patients, involving variant numbers, relative quantities and relative electrophoretic mobilities, but no apparent tissue-specific trend. Genome variants present in the liver and/or PBMC were not detected in the corresponding plasma samples, while certain HCV variants were present only in plasma. No dominant amino acids or amino acid pattern characteristic of variants present solely in the PBMC were detected in the E2/NS1 region sequenced.


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