Hepatitis C Virus E2 Protein Induces Upregulation of IL-8 Pathways and Production of Heat Shock Proteins in Human Thyroid Cells

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Thyroiditis is one of the most common extrahepatic manifestations of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. By binding to surface cell receptor CD81, HCV envelope glycoprotein E2 mediates entry of HCV into cells. Studies have shown that different viral proteins may individually induce host responses to infection. We hypothesized that HCV E2 protein binding to CD81 expressed on thyroid cells activates a cascade of inflammatory responses that can trigger autoimmune thyroiditis in susceptible individuals.


Human thyroid cell lines ML-1 and human thyrocytes in primary cell culture were treated with HCV recombinant E2 protein. The expression of major proinflammatory cytokines was measured at the messenger RNA and protein levels. Next-generation transcriptome analysis was used to identify early changes in gene expression in thyroid cells induced by E2.


HCV envelope protein E2 induced strong inflammatory responses in human thyrocytes, resulting in production of interleukin (IL)-8, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor-α. Furthermore, the E2 protein induced production of several heat shock proteins including HSP60, HSP70p12A, and HSP10, in human primary thyrocytes. In thyroid cell line ML-1, RNA sequencing identified upregulation of molecules involved in innate immune pathways with high levels of proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines and increased expression of costimulatory molecules, specifically CD40, known to be a major thyroid autoimmunity gene.


Our data support a key role for HCV envelope protein E2 in triggering thyroid autoimmunity through activation of cytokine pathways by bystander mechanisms.

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