Human dendritic cells expressing hepatitis C virus core protein display transcriptional and functional changes consistent with maturation

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SUMMARY.Hepatitis C virus (HCV) causes a chronic liver infection, which may result in cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Impairment of the maturation process in dendritic cells (DCs) may be one of the mechanisms responsible for immune evasion of HCV. The core and NS3 proteins are among the most conserved HCV proteins and play a key role in viral clearance. To evaluate the effects of these proteins on DCs, monocyte-derived immature DCs (iDCs) were transfected with in vitro transcribed (IVT) HCV core or NS3 RNA and treated with maturation factors. Neither core nor NS3 had an inhibitory effect on DC maturation; however, transfection of iDCs with IVT core RNA appeared to result in changes compatible with maturation. To investigate this in more detail, the transcriptional profiles of iDCs transfected with IVT core, NS3 or green fluorescent protein (GFP) RNA were examined using a DC-specific membrane array. Of the 288 genes on the array, 46 genes were distinctively up- or down-regulated by transfection with IVT core RNA in comparison with NS3 or GFP RNA treatments. Forty-two of these genes are involved in DC maturation. The effects of core on maturation of iDCs were confirmed with a significant increase in surface expression of CD83 and HLA-DR, a reduction of phagocytosis, as well as an increase in proliferation and IFN-γ secretion by T cells in a mixed lymphocyte reaction assay. These results show that HCV core does not have an inhibitory effect on human DC maturation, but could be a target for the immune system.

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