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Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection can lead to liver cirrhosis in up to 20% of individuals, often requiring liver transplantation. Although the new liver is known to be rapidly reinfected, the dynamics and source of the reinfecting virus(es) are unclear, resulting in some confusion concerning the relationship between clinical outcome and viral characteristics. To clarify the dynamics of liver reinfection, longitudinal serum viral samples from 10 transplant patients were studied. Part of the E1/E2 region was sequenced, and advanced phylogenetic analysis methods were used in a multiparameter analysis to determine the history and ancestry of reinfecting lineages. Our results demonstrated the complexity of HCV evolutionary dynamics after liver transplantation, in which a large diverse population of viruses is transmitted and maintained for months to years. As many as 30 independent lineages in a single patient were found to reinfect the new liver. Several later posttransplant lineages were more closely related to older pretransplant viruses than to viruses detected immediately after transplantation. Although our data are consistent with a number of interpretations, the persistence of high viral genetic variation over long periods of time requires an active mechanism. We discuss possible scenarios, including frequency-dependent selection or variation in selective pressure among viral subpopulations, i.e., the population structure. The latter hypothesis, if correct, could have relevance to the success of newer direct-acting antiviral therapies.

Original publication




Journal article


J Virol

Publication Date





8432 - 8439


Adult, Aged, Cluster Analysis, Genetic Variation, Hepacivirus, Hepatitis C, Chronic, Humans, Liver Transplantation, Longitudinal Studies, Male, Middle Aged, Molecular Sequence Data, Phylogeny, Sequence Analysis, DNA, Viral Envelope Proteins, Viral Load