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J Virol. 2011 Dec;85(23):12292-303. doi: 10.1128/JVI.05920-11. Epub 2011 Sep 21.

Hepatitis C virus-induced cancer stem cell-like signatures in cell culture and murine tumor xenografts.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Section of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, 975 NE 10th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73104, USA.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a prominent risk factor for the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Similar to most solid tumors, HCCs are believed to contain poorly differentiated cancer stem cell-like cells (CSCs) that initiate tumorigenesis and confer resistance to chemotherapy. In these studies, we demonstrate that the expression of an HCV subgenomic replicon in cultured cells results in the acquisition of CSC traits. These traits include enhanced expression of doublecortin and CaM kinase-like-1 (DCAMKL-1), Lgr5, CD133, α-fetoprotein, cytokeratin-19 (CK19), Lin28, and c-Myc. Conversely, curing of the replicon from these cells results in diminished expression of these factors. The putative stem cell marker DCAMKL-1 is also elevated in response to the overexpression of a cassette of pluripotency factors. The DCAMKL-1-positive cells isolated from hepatoma cell lines by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) form spheroids in Matrigel. The HCV RNA abundance and NS5B levels are significantly reduced by the small interfering RNA (siRNA)-led depletion of DCAMKL-1. We further demonstrate that HCV replicon-expressing cells initiate distinct tumor phenotypes compared to the tumors initiated by parent cells lacking the replicon. This HCV-induced phenotype is characterized by high-level expression/coexpression of DCAMKL-1, CK19, α-fetoprotein, and active c-Src. The results obtained by the analysis of liver tissues from HCV-positive patients and liver tissue microarrays reiterate these observations. In conclusion, chronic HCV infection appears to predispose cells toward the path of acquiring cancer stem cell-like traits by inducing DCAMKL-1 and hepatic progenitor and stem cell-related factors. DCAMKL-1 also represents a novel cellular target for combating HCV-induced hepatocarcinogenesis.

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