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Int J Cancer. 2003 Oct 20;107(1):65-73.

Hepatitis C virus NS5A as a potential viral Bcl-2 homologue interacts with Bax and inhibits apoptosis in hepatocellular carcinoma.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Koo Foundation Sun Yat-Sen Cancer Center, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China.


Treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells with butyrate can induce apoptosis irrespective of hepatitis B virus integration. No information is available, however, regarding the effect of butyrate on HCC in the presence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) because some HCV proteins can regulate cell survival. By gene transfer, we found that HCV core enhances but HCV NS5A antagonizes sodium phenylbutyrate (NaPB)-induced apoptosis in HCC cells, which is independent of p53. We then chose the p53-negative Hep3B HCC cell to investigate the mechanism of anti-apoptosis mediated by NS5A. In the NaPB-treated Hep3B cells without NS5A expression, induction of apoptosis was associated with Bax redistribution from the cytosol to the nucleus interior and subsequently, to a nuclear membrane-bound form. In the NS5A expressing Hep3B cells, NaPB treatment also triggered relocalization of both Bax and NS5A from the cytosol to the nucleus interior but Bax retained inside the nucleus and did not finally move to the nuclear membrane. Using double immunofluorescence and coimmunoprecipitation, we demonstrated that NS5A co-localizes and interacts with Bax in the nucleus. The HCV NS5A protein was further found to contain Bcl-2 homology domains (BH3, BH1 and BH2). Additional studies using deleted NS5A constructs were carried out to determine whether the BH2 domain or nuclear localization signal (NLS) in NS5A is required for interaction with Bax in the nucleus or inhibition of apoptosis. NS5A with deletion of both BH2 domain and NLS localized in the cytoplasm, dissociated with Bax, and lost anti-apoptosis activity during NaPB treatment. In contrast, NS5A with intact BH domains except NLS still bound directly to Bax in the perinuclear region or the nucleus, but showed less association with Bax in the nucleus and lower effect in apoptosis inhibition than full-length NS5A. These results suggest that HCV NS5A as a Bcl-2 homologue interacts with Bax to protect p53-negative HCC cells from NaPB-induced apoptosis.

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