Background. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotype 1 is the most prevalent worldwide. Subtype 1a, compared with 1b, shows lower response rates and higher propensity to select for drug resistance to NS3 and selected NS5A and nonnucleoside NS5B inhibitors. Two distinct clades of subtype 1a have been described. Methods. Using Bayesian methodology, we performed a time-scaled phylogeny reconstruction of clade separation and characterized the geographic distribution, phylodynamics, and association with natural resistance variants of NS3 sequences from 362 patients carrying subtype 1a HCV. Results. All sequences segregated in 2 clearly distinct clades. Clade I showed an earlier origin from the common ancestor compared with clade II. Clade I virus was more prevalent in non-European countries, represented mostly by United States, compared with European (75.7% vs 49.3%; P < .001). The prevalence of the natural NS3 variant Q80K, associated with resistance to the macrocyclic protease inhibitor simeprevir, was detected in 51.6% of clade I and 0% of clade II (P < .001); clade I showed a lower genetic barrier for Q80K, whereas no sign of selective pressure at any protease inhibitor resistance-associated codon was detected. Conclusions. Hepatitis C virus subtype 1a clades have a clearly different distribution in Europe and the United States, and the natural resistance mutation Q80K is exclusively associated with clade I.
Keywords: HCV; Q80K; drug resistance; genotype 1a; protease.