Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is characterized by a narrow host range and high interindividual variability in the clinical course of infection. Both of these traits are thought to be largely due to genetic variation between species and between individual hosts. The tight junction component occludin (OCLN) is essential for HCV entry into host cells, and the differences between human and murine OCLN are thought to account in part for the inability of HCV to infect mice and hence preclude their use as a convenient small-animal model. This study assesses the impact of genetic variation in OCLN on cell culture-grown HCV (HCVcc) using a newly generated and characterized OCLN(low) subclone of the Huh-7.5 cell line (Huh-7.5 subclone in which endogenous OCLN expression has been downregulated by a short hairpin RNA). We report the frequency of coding nonsynonymous single nucleotide polymorphisms, i.e., polymorphisms resulting in amino acid exchanges, present in the human population and determine their ability to function as HCV (co)receptors. Moreover, we show that murine OCLN can sustain HCVcc entry, albeit with about 5-fold reduced efficiency compared to that of human OCLN. This reduction in efficiency is due solely to two amino acid residues previously identified by others using an HCV pseudoparticle approach. Finally, we use the Huh-7.5/OCLN(low) cell line to show that HCV spread between neighboring cells is strictly dependent on OCLN.