GB virus-B (GBV-B) is the virus most closely related to hepatitis C virus (HCV). Thus, we have used GBV-B infection of tamarins, which develop acute hepatitis following experimental infection, as a surrogate model to study protective immunity. As challenge virus, we first produced a GBV-B pool from an infected tamarin, which was not infected with the related GBV-A viruses. Its infectivity titer was 10(6.6) tamarin 50% infectious doses per ml. Next, two tamarins that were convalescent from recombinant GBV-B infection were re-challenged. In the original infection viremia persisted for 8 and 12 weeks, respectively, and both animals developed moderately severe hepatitis. Each tamarin was re-challenged four times with 10(4.3) tamarin 50% infectious doses of the GBV-B challenge virus. In one animal, each re-challenge produced 1-2 weeks of viremia; hepatitis was observed following the first re-challenge. In the other animal, however, only the first re-challenge produced viremia, lasting 1 week. During the primary infection, peak GBV-B titers were about 10(8) genome equivalents/ml in both animals; following re-challenges, peak titers ranged from 10(3) to 10(6) genome equivalents/ml. Analysis of the polyprotein sequence of viruses recovered from both animals following the first re-challenge demonstrated that these did not represent immune escape variants since mutations were not detected. Neutralization studies suggested that the immunity was not humoral in nature. We also demonstrated that the immunity was long-lived: 1 year after the fourth challenge, the animal with sterilizing immunity had low titer viremia for only 1 week following an additional challenge.
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