Limited humoral immunity in hepatitis C virus infection

Gastroenterology. 1999 Jan;116(1):135-43. doi: 10.1016/s0016-5085(99)70237-4.


Background & aims: The extremely high rate of chronicity to hepatitis C virus (HVC) infection suggests an inefficient immune response. The humoral immune response to HCV was evaluated in 60 patients with chronic HCV infection and in 12 patients acutely infected with HCV.

Methods: A number of recombinant HCV antigens including the core, envelope 2 (E2), nonstructural (NS) 3, NS4, and NS5 proteins, and NS4a and E2-HVR-1 peptides were used in enzyme-linked immunoassays.

Results: Immunoglobulin (Ig) G antibody responses to these viral antigens, except for the HCV core, were highly restricted to the IgG1 isotype. The prevalence of antibodies of the IgG1 isotype specific for the HCV core, E2, E2-HVR1, NS3 (helicase domain), NS4, and NS5 antigens was 97%, 98%, 28%, 88%, 33%, and 68%, respectively. Antibodies of the IgG3 isotype specific for E2, E2-HVR-1, NS3, NS4, and NS5 were detected in a minority of serum samples. The IgG2 and IgG4 isotypes were rarely if ever detected. Furthermore, antibody responses to HCV viral antigens were of relatively low titer and, with the exception of anti-HCV core, were delayed in appearance until the chronic phase of infection.

Conclusions: The IgG1 restriction, low titer, and delayed appearance of antibody responses elicited during HCV infection suggest that the immunogenicity of HCV proteins is limited in the context of natural infection. Inasmuch as recombinant HCV viral antigens perform as relatively normal immunogens in small animals, we suggest that the defective humoral immune responses during HCV infection may be attributable to an "immune avoidance" strategy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Antibody Formation
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Hepatitis C / immunology*
  • Hepatitis C Antigens / immunology
  • Hepatitis C, Chronic / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / biosynthesis
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Kinetics
  • Viral Core Proteins / immunology
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / immunology


  • Hepatitis C Antigens
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Viral Core Proteins
  • Viral Envelope Proteins
  • nucleocapsid protein, Hepatitis C virus
  • glycoprotein E2, Hepatitis C virus