Background/aims: Suppressor of cytokine signaling (SOCS)-1, a negative feedback regulator of cytokine signaling pathway, also has a tumor suppressor activity, the silencing of its gene by hypermethylation is suggested to contribute to hepatocarcinogenesis. We studied the effect of the core protein of hepatitis C virus (HCV) on the expression of SOCS-1 gene.
Methods: HCV core gene transgenic mice, which develop hepatocellular carcinoma late in life, HepG2 cells expressing the core protein, and human liver tissues were analyzed.
Results: The expression of SOCS-1 gene was significantly suppressed in the liver of core gene transgenic mice and HepG2 cells expressing the core protein, while that of SOCS-3 gene was conserved. SOCS-1 expression levels also decreased in HCV-positive human liver tissues. The core protein differentially down-regulated the expression of signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) target genes, but rather enhanced STAT1 and STAT3 activation after interleukin-6 stimulation in mouse liver tissues and cells.
Conclusions: HCV core protein down-regulates the expression of SOCS-1 gene. This is a mechanism leading to SOCS-1 silencing, an alternative to the hypermethylation of the gene; this effect of the core protein may modulate the intracellular signaling pathway, contributing to the pathogenesis in HCV infection including hepatocarcinogenesis.