What is the pathophysiology of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection?

Updated: Oct 07, 2019
  • Author: Vinod K Dhawan, MD, FACP, FRCPC, FIDSA; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
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Answer

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a spherical, enveloped, single-stranded RNA virus belonging to the family Flaviviridae, genus Flavivirus. Lauer and Walker reported that HCV is closely related to hepatitis G, dengue, and yellow fever viruses. [13] HCV can produce at least 10 trillion new viral particles each day.

The HCV genome consists of a single, open reading frame and two untranslated, highly conserved regions, 5'-UTR and 3'-UTR, at both ends of the genome. The genome has approximately 9500 base pairs and encodes a single polyprotein of 3011 amino acids that are processed into 10 structural and regulatory proteins (see the image below).

Hepatitis C viral genome. Courtesy of Hepatitis Re Hepatitis C viral genome. Courtesy of Hepatitis Resource Network.

The natural targets of HCV are hepatocytes and, possibly, B lymphocytes. Viral clearance is associated with the development and persistence of strong virus-specific responses by cytotoxic T lymphocytes and helper T cells.

In most infected people, viremia persists and is accompanied by variable degrees of hepatic inflammation and fibrosis. Findings from studies suggest that at least 50% of hepatocytes may be infected with HCV in patients with chronic hepatitis C.


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