Researchers discover a trigger by which the HCV enters liver cells

Published on December 13, 2012 at 12:58 AM · No Comments

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have discovered a trigger by which the Hepatitis C virus enters liver cells ─ shedding light on how this serious and potentially deadly virus can begin to damage the liver.

The findings, reported in the Dec. 7, 2012 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, may give scientists a target for future development of treatments for the virus.

In the early stages of a Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infection, the researchers found, the virus binds to receptors on the liver cells' surface and activates PI3K and AKT, two proteins that control cell growth and metabolism, and which allow HCV to enter liver cells.

"When these two protein factors are activated, they trigger a cascade of reactions, altering the physiology of infected cells," said corresponding author and lead researcher James Ou, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. "Later, by continuing to disturb this pathway, the virus may sensitize the liver cells to eventually become cancerous."

The findings were reported in a paper titled "Transient Activation of the PI3K-AKT Pathway by Hepatitis C Virus to Enhance Viral Entry." First author was Zhe Liu, a postdoctoral research associate in Ou's lab. Serving as co-investigators were Keck faculty members Keigo Machida, assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, and Michael M.C. Lai, distinguished emeritus professor of microbiology and immunology, and neurology.

There are four-million carriers of HCV in the U.S. Often, people don't know that they have the virus until they already have some liver damage, which can take many years to develop. In time, the virus can lead to serious and deadly liver conditions: cirrhosis, a chronic, degenerative condition; cancer; and organ failure.

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