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J Hepatol. 2010 Feb;52(2):183-90. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2009.11.003. Epub 2009 Dec 16.

Hepatitis C virions subvert natural killer cell activation to generate a cytokine environment permissive for infection.

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Department of Microbial Molecular Biology, Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Siena, Italy.



Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is remarkably successful in establishing persistent infections due to its ability to evade host immune responses through a combination of mechanisms including modulation of interferon (IFN) signalling in infected cells, interference with effector cell function of the immune system and continual viral genetic variation. We have previously demonstrated that natural killer (NK) cells can be inhibited in vitro by recombinant HCV glycoprotein E2 via cross-linking of CD81, a cellular co-receptor for the virus.


Taking advantage of the recently established tissue-culture system for HCV, we have studied the effects of CD81 engagement by the HCV envelope glycoprotein E2 when the protein is part of complete, infectious viral particles. Specifically, we asked whether exposure to HCV viral particles (HCVcc) affects activation of NK cells and whether altered NK cell activation, in turn, impacts on HCV infectivity.


We found that immobilized HCVcc, unlike soluble HCVcc, inhibited IFN-gamma production by interleukin (IL)-12 activated NK cells, and that this effect was mediated by engagement of cellular CD81 by HCV-virion displayed E2. In contrast, NK-production of IL-8 was increased in the presence of HCV. The cytokines produced by IL-12 activated NK cells strongly reduced the establishment of productive HCV infection. Importantly, NK-cell derived cytokines secreted in the presence of HCVcc showed a diminished antiviral effect that correlated with IFN-gamma reduction, while IL-8 concentrations had no impact on HCV infectivity.


Exposure to HCVcc modulates the pattern of cytokines produced by NK cells, leading to reduced antiviral activity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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