Immune-mediated effects targeting hepatitis C virus in a syngeneic replicon cell transplantation mouse model

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Abstract

Objective

HCV is characterised by its ability to establish chronic infection in hepatocytes and to replicate in the presence of an inflammation. We mimicked this situation in vivo in immune-competent mice by syngeneic transplantation of HCV replicon-containing mouse hepatoma cells.

Design

A total of 5 million H-2b positive Hep56.1D cells, carrying a subgenomic genotype (gt) 2a replicon (HCV replicon cells) or stably expressing comparable levels of the HCV NS3/4A protease/helicase complex (NS3/4A hepatoma cells), were injected subcutaneously into syngeneic H-2b-restricted mice. Kinetics of tumour growth, HCV RNA replication levels and HCV-specific immune responses were monitored. For immune monitoring, new H-2b-restricted cytotoxic T cell epitopes within the gt2a NS3/4A region were mapped. Immune mice were generated by DNA-based vaccination.

Results

HCV replicon and NS3/4A hepatoma cells generated solid tumours in vivo. Similar to what is seen in human HCV infection did HCV RNA replicate in the presence of inflammation. NS3/4A-specific CD8+ T cells seemed to transiently reduce HCV RNA levels. Both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells were required for protection against tumour growth. Vaccine-induced NS3/4A(gt2a)-specific T cells protected against HCV replicon tumours in wild-type, but not in HCV NS3/4A(gt1a)-transgenic mice with dysfunctional HCV-specific T cells. Importantly, as in human HCV infection, HCV replicon cells neither primed nor boosted a strong NS3/4A-specific T cell response.

Conclusion

Syngeneic transplantation of mouse HCV replicon cells into immune-competent animals mirrors many in vivo events in humans. This system is versatile and can be applied to any genetically modified H-2b-restricted mouse strain.

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