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J Infect Dis. 2013 Nov 15;208(10):1653-63. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jit338. Epub 2013 Jul 29.

Restoration of type I interferon expression by heme and related tetrapyrroles through inhibition of NS3/4A protease.

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Department of Internal Medicine and Research Service, Veterans Affairs Medical Center.



Tetrapyrrole substrates and products of heme oxygenase are potent inhibitors of hepatitis C virus (HCV) replication. It is not clear whether this occurs through primary induction of type I interferon (IFN), inhibition of viral NS3/4A protease, or a combination of these mechanisms. We studied the antiviral actions of tetrapyrroles and their potential influence on type I IFN induction.


The effects of tetrapyrrole on NS3/4A protease activity and type I IFN induction were assessed in HCV-permissive cells, replicons, or human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293 cells transfected with NS3/4A protease. Activation of innate immune signaling was determined after transfection of double-strand surrogate nucleic acid antigens or infection with defined sequence HCV cell culture (HCVcc) RNA.


Tetrapyrroles failed to directly induce IFN expression at concentrations that inhibited HCV replication and NS3/4A protease activity. However, they potently restored IFN induction after attenuation with NS3/4A protease, a process accompanied by preservation of the adapter protein, mitochondrial antiviral signaling protein, nuclear localization of IFN regulatory factor 3, and augmentation of IFN-stimulated gene products.


Tetrapyrroles do not directly induce IFN, but they dramatically restore type I IFN signaling pathway after attenuation with NS3/4A protease. They show immunomodulatory as well as antiprotease activity and may be useful for treatment of HCV infection.


HCV protease inhibitors; heme metalloporphyrins; hepatitis C virus; type I interferon

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