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J Virol. 2006 Nov;80(21):10579-90. Epub 2006 Aug 23.

Viral and cellular determinants of the hepatitis C virus envelope-heparan sulfate interaction.

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Department of Medicine II, University of Freiburg, Hugstetter Strasse 55, D-79106 Freiburg, Germany.


Cellular binding and entry of hepatitis C virus (HCV) are the first steps of viral infection and represent a major target for antiviral antibodies and novel therapeutic strategies. We have recently demonstrated that heparan sulfate (HS) plays a key role in the binding of HCV envelope glycoprotein E2 to target cells (Barth et al., J. Biol. Chem. 278:41003-41012, 2003). In this study, we characterized the HCV-HS interaction and analyzed its inhibition by antiviral host immune responses. Using recombinant envelope glycoproteins, virus-like particles, and HCV pseudoparticles as model systems for the early steps of viral infection, we mapped viral and cellular determinants of HCV-HS interaction. HCV-HS binding required a specific HS structure that included N-sulfo groups and a minimum of 10 to 14 saccharide subunits. HCV envelope binding to HS was mediated by four viral epitopes overlapping the E2 hypervariable region 1 and E2-CD81 binding domains. In functional studies using HCV pseudoparticles, we demonstrate that HCV binding and entry are specifically inhibited by highly sulfated HS. Finally, HCV-HS binding was markedly inhibited by antiviral antibodies derived from HCV-infected individuals. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that binding of the viral envelope to a specific HS configuration represents an important step for the initiation of viral infection and is a target of antiviral host immune responses in vivo. Mapping of viral and cellular determinants of HCV-HS interaction sets the stage for the development of novel HS-based antiviral strategies targeting viral attachment and entry.

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