Background/aims: Studies of HCV quasispecies during interferon treatment have shown the selection of resistant clones. Enomoto et al. have defined the interferon sensitivity-determining region in an amino acid stretch of the HCV-1b NS5A region. Patients with a mutant strain before treatment were complete responders, whereas those with wild-type HCV-J strain were resistant to interferon. The same region was studied in HCV isolates of French patients.
Methods: Forty-three HCV-1b chronically infected patients, consisting of 26 non-responders and 17 complete responders to interferon-alfa treatment (3 MUI tiw for 6 months), were included retrospectively. We directly sequenced the NS5A(2209-2248) HCV region of these patients before treatment. The viral load could be obtained from six complete responders and 15 non-responders.
Results: We detected wild-type and intermediate strains, but only two mutant strains were present. One of them was found in a non-responder. In three complete responders, we found a wild-type strain. The distribution of the various strains was rather different from that found in Japan. Before treatment, the viral load was lower in complete responders (p=0.01).
Conclusions: Only two mutant strains were detected in our study. This could partially explain the low response rate to interferon treatment of French HCV-1b-infected patients, although the dose regimen was lower than in Japanese studies. Also, wild-type strains were found in some complete responders, and no correlation was determined between the mutation number in the NS5A(2209-2248) region and response to alfa interferon therapy. This may be related to epidemiological differences between HCV-1b strains present in France and those in Japan. Searching for the mutant NS5A pattern before treatment does not appear to be useful in French patients as it is too uncommon.