Objective: Changes in the deduced amino acid sequence of the envelope 2 (E2) region of the GB virus C/hepatitis G virus (GBV-C/HGV) were analyzed to investigate whether or not the region contributes to persistent infection with the virus. Methods: Eight patients with acute hepatitis C and 1 patient with acute hepatitis of unknown etiology were included in the study. GBV-C/HGV RNA was detected in 6 patients, including the patient with hepatitis of unknown origin. The nucleotide sequence of the E2 region of hepatitis C virus (HCV) and GBV-C/HGV was determined by direct sequencing of polymerase chain reaction products in 5 patients with HCV infection and in 6 patients with GBV-C/HGV infection twice during the period of early infection and several months or years later in each patient. Results: The mean substitution rate of the deduced amino acid sequence in the E2 region was over 100 times lower (p < 0.001) in GBV-C/HGV (0.01 ± 0.04/month/100 sites) than in HCV (2.4 ± 1.7/month/100 sites). The amino acid sequence of the loop domain of GBV-C/HGV-E2 did not change in any of the 6 patients. On the other hand, the sequence of the hypervariable region of HCV-E2 changed remarkably (5.9 ± 4.3/month/100 sites). No amino acid substitution in the loop domain was observed in 7 additional patients who showed persistent GBV-C/HGV viremia for more than 2 years. Conclusion: These results indicate that changes in the amino acid sequence of the E2 region are not involved in the mechanism of persistent GBV-C/HGV infection.

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