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ABSTRACTMechanisms underlying the ability of hepatitis C virus (HCV) to establish persistent infections and induce progressive liver disease remain poorly understood. HCV is one of several positive-stranded RNA viruses capable of establishing persistence in their immunocompetent vertebrate hosts, an attribute associated with formation of large scale RNA structure in their genomic RNA. We developed novel methods to analyse and visualise genome-scale ordered RNA structure (GORS) predicted from the increasingly large datasets of complete genome sequences of HCV. Structurally conserved RNA secondary structure in coding regions of HCV localised exclusively to polyprotein ends (core, NS5B). Coding regions elsewhere were also intensely structured based on elevated minimum folding energy difference (MFED) values, but the actual stem-loop elements involved in genome folding were structurally entirely distinct, even between subtypes 1a and 1b. Dynamic remodelling was further evident from comparison of HCV strains in different host genetic background. Significantly higher MFED values, greater suppression of UpA dinucleotide frequencies and restricted diversification were found in subjects with the TT genotype of the rs12979860 SNP in the IFNL4 gene compared to the CC (non-expressing) allele. These structural and compositional associations with expression of interferon-λ4 were recapitulated on a larger scale by higher MFED values and greater UpA suppression of genotype 1 compared to genotype 3a, associated with previously reported HCV genotype-associated differences in hepatic interferon-stimulated gene induction. Associations between innate cellular responses with HCV structure and further evolutionary constraints represents an important new element in RNA virus evolution and the adaptive interplay between virus and host.

Original publication




Journal article


Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Publication Date