Background and objectives: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) variants that confer resistance to direct-acting-antiviral agents (DAA) have been detected by standard sequencing technology in genotype (G) 1 viruses from DAA-naive patients. It has recently been shown that virological response rates are higher and breakthrough rates are lower in G1b infected patients than in G1a infected patients treated with certain classes of HCV DAAs. It is not known whether this corresponds to a difference in the composition of G1a and G1b HCV quasispecies in regards to the proportion of naturally occurring DAA-resistant variants before treatment.
Methods: We used ultradeep pyrosequencing to determine the prevalence of low-abundance (<25% of the sequence reads) DAA-resistant variants in 191 NS3 and 116 NS5B isolates from 208 DAA-naive G1-infected patients.
Results: A total of 3.5 million high-quality reads of ≥ 200 nucleotides were generated. The median coverage depth was 4150x and 4470x per NS3 and NS5B amplicon, respectively. Both G1a and G1b populations showed Shannon entropy distributions, with no difference between G1a and G1b in NS3 or NS5B region at the nucleotide level. A higher number of substitutions that confer resistance to protease inhibitors were observed in G1a isolates (mainly at amino acid 80 of the NS3 region). The prevalence of amino acid substitutions that confer resistance to NS5B non-nucleoside inhibitors was similar in G1a and G1b isolates. The NS5B S282T variant, which confers resistance to the polymerase inhibitors mericitabine and sofosbuvir, was not detected in any sample.
Conclusion: The quasispecies genetic diversity and prevalence of DAA-resistant variants was similar in G1a and G1b isolates and in both NS3 and NS5B regions, suggesting that this is not a determinant for the higher level of DAA resistance observed across G1a HCV infected patients upon treatment.