Broad antibody sensitivity differences of hepatitis C virus (HCV) isolates and their ability to persist in the presence of neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) remain poorly understood. Here, we show that polymorphisms within glycoprotein E2, including hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) and antigenic site 412 (AS412), broadly affect NAb sensitivity by shifting global envelope protein conformation dynamics between theoretical "closed," neutralization-resistant and "open," neutralization-sensitive states. The conformational space of AS412 was skewed toward β-hairpin-like conformations in closed states, which also depended on HVR1, assigning function to these enigmatic E2 regions. Scavenger receptor class B, type I entry dependency of HCV was associated with NAb resistance and correlated perfectly with decreased virus propensity to interact with HCV co-receptor CD81, indicating that decreased NAb sensitivity resulted in a more complex entry pathway. This link between global E1/E2 states and functionally distinct AS412 conformations has important implications for targeting AS412 in rational HCV vaccine designs.
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