Journal of virology 2017 09 20() pii 10.1128/JVI.01372-17
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth. However, the timing and precise biologic mechanisms that are involved in this process are incompletely understood, as are the determinants that influence transmission of particular HCV variants. Here we report results of a longitudinal assessment of HCV quasispecies diversity and composition in 5 cases of vertical HCV transmission, including 3 women coinfected with HIV-1. The population structure of HCV variant spectra based on E2 envelope gene sequences (nucleotide positions 1491-1787), including hypervariable regions 1 and 2, was characterized using next-generation sequencing and median joining network analysis. Compatible with a loose transmission bottleneck, larger numbers of shared HCV variants were observed in presence of maternal coinfection. Coalescent Bayesian Markov chain Monte Carlo simulations revealed median times of transmission between 24.9 weeks and 36.1 weeks of gestation, with some confidence intervals ranging into the 1(st) trimester, hence considerably earlier than previously thought. Using recombinant autologous HCV pseudoparticles, differences were uncovered in HCV-specific antibody responses between coinfected mothers and mothers infected with HCV alone, in whom generalized absence of neutralization was observed. Finally, shifts in HCV quasispecies composition were seen in children around 1 year of age, compatible with the disappearance of passively transferred maternal immunoglobulins and/or the development of HCV-specific humoral immunity. Taken together, these results provide insights into the timing, dynamics, and biologic mechanisms involved in vertical HCV transmission and inform preventative strategies.IMPORTANCE Although it is well established that hepatitis C virus (HCV) can be transmitted from mother to child, the manner and the moment at which transmission operates have been the subject of conjecture. By carrying out a detailed examination of viral sequences, we showed that transmission could take place comparatively early in pregnancy. In addition, we showed that when the mother also carried human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), many more HCV variants were shared between her and child, suggesting that the mechanism and/or the route of transmission of HCV differed in presence of coinfection with HIV-1. These results could explain why cesarean section is ineffective in preventing vertical HCV transmission and guide the development of interventions to avert pediatric HCV infection.