Genome of human hepatitis C virus (HCV): gene organization, sequence diversity, and variation

Microb Comp Genomics. 2000;5(3):129-51. doi: 10.1089/omi.1.2000.5.129.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the major etiologic agent of non-A, non-B hepatitis. HCV infection frequently causes chronic hepatitis, which progresses to liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Since the discovery of HCV in 1989, a large number of genetic analyses of HCV have been reported, and the viral genome structure has been elucidated. An enveloped virus, HCV belongs to the family Flaviviridae, whose genome consists of a positive-stranded RNA molecule of about 9.6 kilobases and encodes a large polyprotein precursor (about 3000 amino acids). This precursor protein is cleaved by the host and viral proteinase to generate at least 10 proteins: the core, envelope 1 (E1), E2, p7, nonstructural (NS) 2, NS3, NS4A, NS4B, NS5A, and NS5B. These HCV proteins not only function in viral replication but also affect a variety of cellular functions. HCV has been found to have remarkable genetic heterogeneity. To date, more than 30 HCV genotypes have been identified worldwide. Furthermore, HCV may show quasispecies distribution in an infected individual. These findings may have important implications in diagnosis, pathogenesis, treatment, and vaccine development. The hypervariable region 1 found within the envelope E2 protein was shown to be a major site for the genetic evolution of HCV after the onset of hepatitis, and might be involved in escape from the host immunesurveillance system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Variation / genetics
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Genotype
  • Hepacivirus / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid
  • Viral Proteins / genetics


  • Viral Proteins