The hepatitis C virus (HCV) alternate reading frame protein or F protein of the HCV 1b genotype is a double-frameshift product of the HCV core protein. In order to assess the presence of antibodies specific for F protein and their clinical relevance in sera from HCV patients, we produced recombinant F protein and core protein of the HCV 1b genotype in Escherichia coli. An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was developed using purified recombinant HCV core, F protein, and a 99-residue synthetic F peptide (F99). The seroprevalences of anticore, anti-F protein, and anti-F99 synthetic peptide were 95%, 68%, and 36%, respectively, in 168 HCV patients. The prevalence of anti-F antibodies did not correlate with viral load, genotype, or alanine aminotransferase level. Interferon combination therapy induced a decline in the level of anti-F antibodies in 55 responders (P < 0.01). Thirteen responders (24%) lost their anti-F recombinant protein antibodies, and 17 (31%) lost their anti-F synthetic peptide antibodies, whereas no decrease was observed for the 17 nonresponders. These changes were significant between responders and nonresponders (P < 0.05). Meanwhile, no change was found in the anticore antibody titer of the 72 treated patients. The percentage of anti-F-protein-negative patients (15/15 [100%]) who achieved a sustained virological response (SVR) was higher than that of the anti-F-positive patients (70%) (P < 0.05). Based on these findings, HCV F protein elicits a specific antibody response other than the anticore protein response. Our data also suggest that the presence and level of anti-F antibody responses might be influenced by the treatment (interferon plus ribavirin) and associated with an SVR in Chinese hepatitis C patients.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Microbiology (medical)