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J Virol. 2006 May;80(9):4372-9.

Hepatitis C virus core protein inhibits tumor necrosis factor alpha-mediated apoptosis by a protective effect involving cellular FLICE inhibitory protein.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Saint Louis University, 3635 Vista Ave., FDT-8N, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


We have previously shown that hepatitis C virus (HCV) core protein modulates multiple cellular processes, including those that inhibit tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha)-mediated apoptosis. In this study, we have investigated the signaling mechanism for inhibition of TNF-alpha-mediated apoptosis in human hepatoma (HepG2) cells expressing core protein alone or in context with other HCV proteins. Activation of caspase-3 and the cleavage of DNA repair enzyme poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase were inhibited upon TNF-alpha exposure in HCV core protein-expressing HepG2 cells. In vivo protein-protein interaction studies displayed an association between TNF receptor 1 (TNFR1) and TNFR1-associated death domain protein (TRADD), suggesting that the core protein does not perturb this interaction. A coimmunoprecipitation assay also suggested that HCV core protein does not interfere with the TRADD-Fas-associated death domain protein (FADD)-procaspase-8 interaction. Further studies indicated that HCV core protein expression inhibits caspase-8 activation by sustaining the expression of cellular FLICE (FADD-like interleukin-1beta-converting enzyme)-like inhibitory protein (c-FLIP). Similar observations were also noted upon expression of core protein in context to other HCV proteins expressed from HCV full-length plasmid DNA or a replicon. A decrease in endogenous c-FLIP by specific small interfering RNA induced TNF-alpha-mediated apoptotic cell death and caspase-8 activation. Taken together, our results suggested that the TNF-alpha-induced apoptotic pathway is inhibited by a sustained c-FLIP expression associated with the expression of HCV core protein, which may play a role in HCV-mediated pathogenesis.

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