Impact of virus subtype and host IFNL4 genotype on large-scale RNA structure formation in the genome of hepatitis C virus
Simmonds P., Cuypers L., Irving WL., McLauchlan J., Cooke GS., Barnes E., Ansari MA.
Mechanisms underlying the ability of hepatitis C virus (HCV) to establish persistent infections and induce progressive liver disease remain poorly understood. HCV is one of several positive-stranded RNA viruses capable of establishing persistence in their immunocompetent vertebrate hosts, an attribute previously associated with formation of large-scale RNA structure in their genomic RNA. We developed novel methods to analyze and visualize genome-scale ordered RNA structure (GORS) predicted from the increasingly large data sets of complete genome sequences of HCV. Structurally conserved RNA secondary structure in coding regions of HCV localized exclusively to polyprotein ends (core, NS5B). Coding regions elsewhere were also intensely structured based on elevated minimum folding energy difference (MFED) values, but the actual stem–loop elements involved in genome folding were structurally poorly conserved, even between subtypes 1a and 1b. Dynamic remodeling was further evident from comparison of HCV strains in different host genetic backgrounds. Significantly higher MFED values, greater suppression of UpA dinucleotide frequencies, and restricted diversification were found in subjects with the TT genotype of the rs12979860 SNP in the IFNL4 gene compared to the CC (nonexpressing) allele. These structural and compositional associations with expression of interferon-λ4 were recapitulated on a larger scale by higher MFED values and greater UpA suppression of genotype 1 compared to genotype 3a, associated with previously reported HCV genotype-associated differences in hepatic interferon-stimulated gene induction. Associations between innate cellular responses with HCV structure and further evolutionary constraints represent an important new element in RNA virus evolution and the adaptive interplay between virus and host.