Indexed on: 25 Nov '11Published on: 25 Nov '11Published in: The Journal of general virology
Hepatitis E virus is the aetiological agent of acute hepatitis E, a self-limiting disease prevalent in developing countries. Molecular analysis of viral genomic RNA from a chronically infected patient confirmed the recent discovery that chronic infection correlated with extensive diversification of the virus quasispecies: the hypervariable region of some virus genomes in this USA patient contained large continuous deletions and a minor proportion of genomes in faeces and serum had acquired a mammalian sequence that encoded 39 aa of S19 ribosomal protein fused to the virus non-structural protein. Genomes with this insert were selected during virus passage in cultured cells to become the predominant species, suggesting that the inserted sequence promoted virus growth. The results demonstrated that hepatitis E virus can mutate dramatically during a prolonged infection and suggests it may be important to prevent or cure chronic infections before new variants with unpredictable properties arise.