Evasion of superinfection exclusion and elimination of primary viral RNA by an adapted strain of hepatitis C virus

J Virol. 2013 Dec;87(24):13354-69. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02465-13. Epub 2013 Oct 2.


Cells that are productively infected by hepatitis C virus (HCV) are refractory to a second infection by HCV via a block in viral replication known as superinfection exclusion. The block occurs at a postentry step and likely involves translation or replication of the secondary viral RNA, but the mechanism is largely unknown. To characterize HCV superinfection exclusion, we selected for an HCV variant that could overcome the block. We produced a high-titer HC-J6/JFH1 (Jc1) viral genome with a fluorescent reporter inserted between NS5A and NS5B and used it to infect Huh7.5 cells containing a Jc1 replicon. With multiple passages of these infected cells, we isolated an HCV variant that can superinfect cells at high levels. Notably, the superinfectious virus rapidly cleared the primary replicon from superinfected cells. Viral competition experiments, using a novel strategy of sequence-barcoding viral strains, as well as superinfection of replicon cells demonstrated that mutations in E1, p7, NS5A, and the poly(U/UC) tract of the 3' untranslated region were important for superinfection. Furthermore, these mutations dramatically increased the infectivity of the virus in naive cells. Interestingly, viruses with a shorter poly(U/UC) and an NS5A domain II mutation were most effective in overcoming the postentry block. Neither of these changes affected viral RNA translation, indicating that the major barrier to postentry exclusion occurs at viral RNA replication. The evolution of the ability to superinfect after less than a month in culture and the concomitant exclusion of the primary replicon suggest that superinfection exclusion dramatically affects viral fitness and dynamics in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Hepacivirus / classification
  • Hepacivirus / genetics
  • Hepacivirus / physiology*
  • Hepatitis C / virology*
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism*
  • Superinfection / virology*
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins / metabolism
  • Virus Replication*


  • RNA, Viral
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins