HCV replicates mainly in the hepatocytes of the liver, where it is estimated that daily each infected cell produces approximately fifty virions with a calculated total of one trillion virions generated.
The virus may also replicate in peripheral blood mononuclear (PBMC) cells, potentially accounting for the high levels of immunological disorders found in chronically infected HCV patients.
HCV mutates rapidly due to a high error rate on the part of the virus’ RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. The mutation rate produces so many variants of the virus it is considered a quasispecies rather than a conventional virus species.
Once inside the hepatocyte, HCV takes over portions of the intracellular machinery to replicate. The HCV genome is translated to produce a single protein of around 3011 amino acids. The polyprotein is subsequently processed by viral and host proteases to produce three structural (virion-associated) and seven nonstructural (NS) proteins.