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PLoS One. 2010 Sep 17;5(9). pii: e12841. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012841.

Hepatitis C virus induces the cannabinoid receptor 1.

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  • 1Storr Liver Unit, Westmead Millennium Institute, University of Sydney at Westmead Hospital, Sydney, Australia.



Activation of hepatic CB(1) receptors (CB(1)) is associated with steatosis and fibrosis in experimental forms of liver disease. However, CB(1) expression has not been assessed in patients with chronic hepatitis C (CHC), a disease associated with insulin resistance, steatosis and metabolic disturbance. We aimed to determine the importance and explore the associations of CB(1) expression in CHC.


CB(1) receptor mRNA was measured by real time quantitative PCR on extracted liver tissue from 88 patients with CHC (genotypes 1 and 3), 12 controls and 10 patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB). The Huh7/JFH1 Hepatitis C virus (HCV) cell culture model was used to validate results.


CB(1) was expressed in all patients with CHC and levels were 6-fold higher than in controls (P<0.001). CB(1) expression increased with fibrosis stage, with cirrhotics having up to a 2 fold up-regulation compared to those with low fibrosis stage (p<0.05). Even in mild CHC with no steatosis (F0-1), CB(1) levels remained substantially greater than in controls (p<0.001) and in those with mild CHB (F0-1; p<0.001). Huh7 cells infected with JFH-1 HCV showed an 8-fold upregulation of CB(1), and CB(1) expression directly correlated with the percentage of cells infected over time, suggesting that CB(1) is an HCV inducible gene. While HCV structural proteins appear essential for CB(1) induction, there was no core genotype specific difference in CB(1) expression. CB(1) significantly increased with steatosis grade, primarily driven by patients with genotype 3 CHC. In genotype 3 patients, CB(1) correlated with SREBP-1c and its downstream target FASN (SREBP-1c; R=0.37, FASN; R=0.39, p<0.05 for both).


CB(1) is up-regulated in CHC and is associated with increased steatosis in genotype 3. It is induced by the hepatitis C virus.

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