Ultrastructural organisation of HCV from the bloodstream of infected patients revealed by electron microscopy after specific immunocapture

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Abstract

Objective

HCV particles are associated with very low-density lipoprotein components in chronically infected patients. These hybrid particles, or ‘lipo-viro particles’ (LVPs), are rich in triglycerides, and contain the viral RNA, the capsid protein, E1E2 envelope glycoproteins and apolipoproteins B and E. However, their specific ultrastructural organisation has yet to be determined. We developed a strategy for the preparation of any viral sample that preserves the native structure of the LVPs, facilitating their precise morphological characterisation.

Design

Using a strategy based on the direct specific immunocapture of particles on transmission electron microscopy (TEM) grids, we characterised the precise morphology of the viral particle by TEM.

Results

The LVP consists of a broad nucleocapsid surrounding an electron-dense centre, presumably containing the HCV genome. The nucleocapsid is surrounded by an irregular, detergent-sensitive crescent probably composed of lipids. Lipid content may determine particle size. These particles carry HCV E1E2, ApoB and ApoE, as shown in our immuno-EM analysis. Our results also suggest that these putative LVPs circulate in the serum of patients as part of a mixed population, including lipoprotein-like particles and complete viral particles.

Conclusions

Twenty-five years after the discovery of HCV, this study finally provides information about the precise morphological organisation of viral particles. It is truly remarkable that our TEM images fully confirm the ultrastructure of LVPs predicted by several authors, almost exclusively from the results of molecular biology studies.

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