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PLoS Pathog. 2012;8(4):e1002617. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002617. Epub 2012 Apr 5.

Productive hepatitis C virus infection of stem cell-derived hepatocytes reveals a critical transition to viral permissiveness during differentiation.

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Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, United States of America.


Primary human hepatocytes isolated from patient biopsies represent the most physiologically relevant cell culture model for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, but these primary cells are not readily accessible, display individual variability, and are largely refractory to genetic manipulation. Hepatocyte-like cells differentiated from pluripotent stem cells provide an attractive alternative as they not only overcome these shortcomings but can also provide an unlimited source of noncancer cells for both research and cell therapy. Despite its promise, the permissiveness to HCV infection of differentiated human hepatocyte-like cells (DHHs) has not been explored. Here we report a novel infection model based on DHHs derived from human embryonic (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). DHHs generated in chemically defined media under feeder-free conditions were subjected to infection by both HCV derived in cell culture (HCVcc) and patient-derived virus (HCVser). Pluripotent stem cells and definitive endoderm were not permissive for HCV infection whereas hepatic progenitor cells were persistently infected and secreted infectious particles into culture medium. Permissiveness to infection was correlated with induction of the liver-specific microRNA-122 and modulation of cellular factors that affect HCV replication. RNA interference directed toward essential cellular cofactors in stem cells resulted in HCV-resistant hepatocyte-like cells after differentiation. The ability to infect cultured cells directly with HCV patient serum, to study defined stages of viral permissiveness, and to produce genetically modified cells with desired phenotypes all have broad significance for host-pathogen interactions and cell therapy.

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