Objective: Tupaia belangeri (tree shrew) has a close phylogenetic relationship with primates and has been shown to be susceptible to a variety of human viruses. This study was conducted to investigate whether or not hepatitis C virus (HCV) could infect primary tupaia hepatocytes (PTHs) in vitro.
Methods: Serum-derived HCV was cultivated with PTHs, and then positive and negative strand HCV RNA in PTHs, as well as the encapsidated HCV RNA in the culture medium were detected to evaluate the infection. Virus from the culture medium of the infected PTHs was passed to naïve PTHs, and the quasispecies of HCV were compared among the inoculum and PTHs after infection and passage.
Results: Both positive and negative strand HCV RNA were detected in PTHs after infection. The negative strand RNA was detectable from day 5 to day 10 after infection, while the positive strand RNA was positive up to day 14. HCV RNA, which was RNase resistant, could be detected from the culture medium of the infected PTHs from day 3 to day 14. Production of infectious virons of PTH were demonstrated by passage HCV to naïve PTHs. Compared analysis of HCV quasispecies after infection and passage showed that PTHs were selectively infected with defined HCV quasispecies, and new quasispecies emerged in PTHs after passage.
Conclusion: The present study strongly indicates that PTHs could be infected by HCV and support HCV replication in vitro. Our results would be helpful for the establishment of a tupaia model of HCV infection.