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Hepatology. 2006 Jan;43(1):81-90.

Mechanistic link between the anti-HCV effect of interferon gamma and control of viral replication by a Ras-MAPK signaling cascade.

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Lilly Research Laboratories, Eli Lilly and Company, Indianapolis, IN 46285, USA.


Interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) exerts potent antiviral activity in the hepatitis C virus (HCV) replicon systems. However, the mechanisms underlying the direct antiviral effect have not been determined. We found that the type II transcriptional response to IFN-gamma could be suppressed by inhibition of MEK1/2 kinase activity by MEK1/2 inhibitor U0126 in the hepatoma cell line Huh-7. Using a bicistronic HCV replicon system expressing a luciferase reporter gene in Huh-7 cells (RLuc-replicon), we showed that inhibition of MEK1/2 kinase activity is sufficient to counteract the antiviral activity of IFN-gamma. Expression of a constitutive active form of Ras inhibited the luciferase activity of RLuc-replicon, whereas a dominant-negative mutant of Ras enhanced the reporter activity, indicating that the Ras-MAPK pathway has a role in limiting replication of the viral RNA. Consistent with the involvement of the Ras-MAPK pathway, treatment with epidermal growth factor suppressed HCV protein expression in the RLuc-replicon cells, an effect that could be abolished by U0126. Inhibition of MEK1/2 kinase activity correlated with reduced phosphorylation of the HCV NS5A protein and enhanced RLuc-replicon luciferase reporter activity, in line with recent reports that phosphorylation of NS5A negatively modulates HCV RNA replication. Finally, genetic deletion analysis in yeast supported the role of a MEK-like kinase(s) in the regulation of NS5A phosphorylation. In conclusion, the direct anti-HCV effect of IFN-gamma in cell culture is, at least in part, mediated through the Ras-MAPK signaling pathway, which possibly involves a direct or indirect modulation of NS5A protein phosphorylation.

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