Gastroenterology 2018 06 15;154(8):2194-2208.e12. Epub 2018 Feb 15.
Copenhagen Hepatitis C Program (CO-HEP), Department of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Research Centre, Hvidovre Hospital and Department of Immunology and Microbiology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Electronic address:
Background & Aims: Chronic liver diseases caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotype 6 are prevalent in Asia, and millions of people require treatment with direct-acting antiviral regimens, such as NS5A inhibitor velpatasvir combined with the NS5B polymerase inhibitor sofosbuvir. We developed infectious cell culture models of HCV genotype 6a infection to study the effects of these inhibitors and the development of resistance.
Methods: The consensus sequences of strains HK2 (MG717925) and HK6a (MG717928), originating from serum of patients with chronic HCV infection, were determined by Sanger sequencing of genomes amplified by reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction. In vitro noninfectious full-length clones of these 6a strains were subsequently adapted in Huh7.5 cells, primarily by using substitutions identified in JFH1-based Core-NS5A and Core-NS5B genotype 6a recombinants. We studied the efficacy of NS5A and NS5B inhibitors in concentration-response assays. We examined the effects of long-term culture of Huh7.5 cells incubated with velpatasvir and sofosbuvir singly or combined following infection with passaged full-length HK2 or HK6a recombinant viruses. Resistance-associated substitutions (RAS) were identified by Sanger and next-generation sequencing, and their effects on viral fitness and in drug susceptibility were determined in reverse-genetic experiments.
Results: Adapted full-length HCV genotype 6a recombinants HK2cc and HK6acc had fast propagation kinetics and high infectivity titers. Compared with an HCV genotype 1a recombinant, HCV genotype 6a recombinants of strains HK2 and HK6a were equally sensitive to daclatasvir, elbasvir, velpatasvir, pibrentasvir, and sofosbuvir, but less sensitive to ledipasvir, ombitasvir, and dasabuvir. Long-term exposure of HCV genotype 6a-infected Huh7.5 cells with a combination of velpatasvir and sofosbuvir resulted in clearance of the virus, but the virus escaped the effects of single inhibitors via emergence of the RAS L31V in NS5A (conferring resistance to velpatasvir) and S282T in NS5B (conferring resistance to sofosbuvir). Engineered recombinant genotype 6a viruses with single RAS mediated resistance to velpatasvir or sofosbuvir. HCV genotype 6a viruses with RAS NS5A-L31V or NS5B-S282T were however, able to propagate and escape in Huh7.5 cells exposed to the combination of velpatasvir and sofosbuvir. Further, HCV genotype 6a with NS5A-L31V was able to propagate and escape in the presence of pibrentasvir with emergence of NS5A-L28S, conferring a high level of resistance to this inhibitor.
Conclusions: Strains of HCV genotype 6a isolated from patients can be adapted to propagate in cultured cells, permitting studies of the complete life cycle for this important genotype. The combination of velpatasvir and sofosbuvir is required to block propagation of original HCV genotype 6a, which quickly becomes resistant to single inhibitors via the rapid emergence and persistence of RAS. These features of HCV genotype 6a could compromise treatment.