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Am J Pathol. 1997 Aug;151(2):363-73.

Transfection of HepG2 cells with infectious hepatitis C virus genome.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana 70112, USA.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) represents one of the major causes of acute and chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) around the world. Our knowledge of the life cycle of HCV, however, is limited. Current studies are hampered by the lack of a reproducible, high-level in vitro replication system of HCV. We sought to establish HCV replication in HepG2 cells by gene transfer of in vitro transcribed HCV RNA. In preliminary experiments, diethylaminoethyl-dextran led to more efficient gene transfer than cationic liposomes (lipofectin, lipofectamine, and DOTAP). Therefore, in subsequent experiments, HepG2 cells were transfected with full-length (9.6-kb) and near-full-length (9.4-kb) HCV RNA using diethylaminoethyl-dextran. Transfection with subgenomic HCV RNA and mock transfection were used as controls. Positive- and negative-strand HCV RNA sequences were detected by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (KT-PCR) for 60 days in the infectious HCV RNA transfected HepG2 cells. The presence of negative-strand HCV RNA, presumably representing replicative intermediates, was confirmed by ribonuclease protection assay. The intracellular levels of HCV RNA were measured by quantitative competitive RT-PCR from 10 to 50 days after transfection and were stable over this time period at moderately high levels (10(8) to 10(10) genomes per mg of total RNA). Expression of viral core and nonstructural proteins was detected in the cytoplasm of transfected cells by immunostaining. Virus-like particles measuring 50 to 60 nm in diameter were found by electron microscopy in cytoplasmic vesicles and conditioned media of the cells transfected with infectious HCV RNA but not in cells transfected with truncated HCV RNA. Culture supernatants of infectious HCV RNA transfected HepG2 cells were infectious for Daudi cells for three passages tested. The truncated HCV RNA lacking NS5 and 3' untranslated region (3' UTR) of HCV was replication incompetent. This is the first demonstration of HCV particles in HepG2 cells after transfection with infectious HCV RNA. We conclude that we have established a reproducible HCV replication system in HepG2 cells that can be used to study the life cycle of HCV and to test anti-HCV agents.

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