Isolation of subtype 3c, 3e and 3f-like hepatitis E virus strains stably replicating to high viral loads in an optimized cell culture system
The hepatitis E virus (HEV) is transmitted via the faecal–oral route in developing countries (genotypes 1 and 2) or through contaminated food and blood products worldwide (genotypes 3 and 4). In Europe, HEV subtypes 3c, 3e and 3f are predominant. HEV is the leading cause of acute hepatitis globally and immunocompromised patients are particularly at risk. Because of a lack of cell culture systems efficiently propagating wild-type viruses, research on HEV is mostly based on cell culture-adapted isolates carrying uncommon insertions in the hypervariable region (HVR). While optimizing the cell culture system using the cell culture-adapted HEV strain 47832c, we isolated three wild-type strains derived from clinical specimens representing the predominant spectrum of HEV in Europe. The novel isolates 14-16753 (3c), 14-22707 (3e) and 15-22016 (3f-like) replicate to high viral loads of 10⁸, 10⁹ and 10⁶.⁵ HEV RNA copies/mL at 14 days post-inoculation, respectively. In addition, they could be kept as persistently infected cell cultures with constant high viral loads (~10⁹ copies/mL) for more than a year. In contrast to the latest isolates 47832c, LBPR-0379 and Kernow-C1, the new isolates do not carry genome insertions in the HVR. Optimization of HEV cell culture identified amphotericin B, distinct salts and fetal calf serum (FCS) as important medium supplements. Overconfluent cell layers increased infectivity and virus production. PLC/PRF/5, HuH-7-Lunet BLR, A549 and HepG2/C3A supported replication with different efficiencies. The novel strains and optimized cell culture system may be useful for studies on the HEV life cycle, inactivation, specific drug and vaccine development.