Evolutionary Pathways to Persistence of Highly Fit and Resistant Hepatitis C Virus Protease Inhibitor Escape Variants

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Sanne Brun Jensen, Ulrik Fahnøe, Long V. Pham, Stéphanie Brigitte Nelly Serre, Qi Tang, Lubna Ghanem, Martin Schou Pedersen, Santseharay Ramirez, Daryl Humes, Anne Finne Pihl, Jonathan Filskov, Christina Søhoel Sølund, Julia Dietz, Slim Fourati, Jean Michel Pawlotsky, Christoph Sarrazin, Nina Weis, Kristian Schønning, Henrik Krarup, Jens Bukh & 1 more Judith Margarete Gottwein

Protease inhibitors (PIs) are important components of treatment regimens for patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. However, emergence and persistence of antiviral resistance could reduce their efficacy. Thus, defining resistance determinants is highly relevant for efforts to control HCV. Here, we investigated patterns of PI resistance–associated substitutions (RASs) for the major HCV genotypes and viral determinants for persistence of key RASs. We identified protease position 156 as a RAS hotspot for genotype 1-4, but not 5 and 6, escape variants by resistance profiling using PIs grazoprevir and paritaprevir in infectious cell culture systems. However, except for genotype 3, engineered 156-RASs were not maintained. For genotypes 1 and 2, persistence of 156-RASs depended on genome-wide substitution networks, co-selected under continued PI treatment and identified by next-generation sequencing with substitution linkage and haplotype reconstruction. Persistence of A156T for genotype 1 relied on compensatory substitutions increasing replication and assembly. For genotype 2, initial selection of A156V facilitated transition to 156L, persisting without compensatory substitutions. The developed genotype 1, 2, and 3 variants with persistent 156-RASs had exceptionally high fitness and resistance to grazoprevir, paritaprevir, glecaprevir, and voxilaprevir. A156T dominated in genotype 1 glecaprevir and voxilaprevir escape variants, and pre-existing A156T facilitated genotype 1 escape from clinically relevant combination treatments with grazoprevir/elbasvir and glecaprevir/pibrentasvir. In genotype 1 infected patients with treatment failure and 156-RASs, we observed genome-wide selection of substitutions under treatment. Conclusion: Comprehensive PI resistance profiling for HCV genotypes 1-6 revealed 156-RASs as key determinants of high-level resistance across clinically relevant PIs. We obtained in vitro proof of concept for persistence of highly fit genotype 1-3 156-variants, which might pose a threat to clinically relevant combination treatments.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHepatology
Volume70
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)771-787
Number of pages17
ISSN0270-9139
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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