- The mechanism of hepatitis C virus (HCV) -induced hepatotocellular carcinoma (HCC) is still unknown, but in vitro studies clearly suggest that HCV proteins exert a direct effect on liver carcinogenesis. HCV NS3 serine protease is known to play a key role in the life cycle of the virus and may interact with the host cellular regulatory proteins. The aim of the present study was to conduct a genetic analysis of the HCV NS3 gene coding for the serine protease isolated from serum, tumor, and nontumor tissue of HCC patients. RNA was extracted and HCV cDNA was amplified by nested reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Sequence comparison yielded unique changes at the vicinity of the catalytic sites of the NS3 clones isolated only from HCC tissue. These changes included the insertion of a “large” and charged amino acid, substitution of a polar with a hydrophobic amino acid, and substitution of a charged with a polar amino acid. Those changes affect the electrostatic charge around the active site, and thus the activity and substrate specificity of the serine protease. This is the first study to define significant amino acid changes at the catalytic domain of the NS3 serine protease gene isolated from HCC tissue.