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J Hepatol. 2011 Mar;54(3):566-76. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2010.10.014. Epub 2010 Nov 11.

Hepatitis C virus entry into hepatocytes: molecular mechanisms and targets for antiviral therapies.

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Inserm, U748, Strasbourg, France.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major cause of liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Preventive modalities are absent and the current antiviral treatment is limited by resistance, toxicity, and high costs. Viral entry is required for initiation, spread, and maintenance of infection, and thus is a promising target for antiviral therapy. HCV entry is a highly orchestrated process involving viral and host cell factors. These include the viral envelope glycoproteins E1 and E2, CD81, scavenger receptor BI, and tight junction proteins claudin-1 and occludin. Recent studies in preclinical models and HCV-infected patients have demonstrated that the virus has developed multiple strategies to escape host immune responses during viral entry. These include evasion from neutralizing antibodies and viral spread by cell-cell transmission. These challenges have to be taken into account for the design of efficient antiviral strategies. Thus, a detailed understanding of the mechanisms of viral entry and escape is a prerequisite to define viral and cellular targets and develop novel preventive and therapeutic antivirals. This review summarizes the current knowledge about the molecular mechanisms of HCV entry into hepatocytes, highlights novel targets and reviews the current preclinical and clinical development of compounds targeting entry. Proof-of-concept studies suggest that HCV entry inhibitors are a novel and promising class of antivirals widening the preventive and therapeutic arsenal against HCV infection.

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