Differences between the translation efficiencies mediated by the 5'-untranslated regions (5'-UTR) of genotypes (gt) 1 and 3 of hepatitis C virus (HCV) have been reported but it is unknown if such differences are biologically significant. The 5'-UTR was sequenced from paired serum and liver samples from 26 patients with chronic HCV hepatitis (11 gt 1a, 15 gt 3a). To determine whether there is a consistent difference between gts 1a and 3a translation efficiency, 5'-UTR (nt 1-356) and 5'-UTR plus core (nt 1-914) sequences were cloned into bicistronic, luciferase-encoding constructs and relative translation efficiencies (RTE) measured in Huh7 cells and BHK cells. The relationships between viral load, liver biopsy Ishak scores, degree of steatosis and translational activity of the patient-derived nucleotide sequence were examined. There were no differences in 5'-UTR sequence between serum and corresponding liver samples. The mean RTE of 5'-UTR sequences from gt 3a isolates was not significantly different from gt 1a whether or not the core encoding sequence was included, although inclusion of core led to a reduction in RTE by 93-97% for both genotypes. No correlation was found between RTE and serum HCV RNA levels, liver steatosis, inflammation, or fibrosis. However, a significant correlation was found between the presence of steatosis and infection with HCV gt 3a. It is concluded that there was no difference in translation efficiencies of 5'-UTRs from patients infected with gts 1a and 3a, and translation activity measured in vitro does not correlate with viral load or severity of liver disease.