Background & aims: Heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) is an antioxidant defense and key cytoprotective enzyme, which is repressed by Bach1. Micro-RNA-122 (miR-122) is specifically expressed and highly abundant in human liver and required for replication of hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA. This study was to assess whether a specific miR-122 antagomir down-regulates HCV protein replication and up-regulates HO-1.
Methods: We transfected antagomir of miR-122, 2'-O-methyl-mimic miR-122, or nonspecific control antagomir, into wild-type (WT) Huh-7 cells or Huh-7 stably replicating HCV subgenomic protein core through nonstructural protein 3 of HCV (NS3) (CNS3 replicon cells) or NS3-5B (9-13 replicon cells).
Results: Antagomir of miR-122 reduced the abundance of HCV RNA by 64% in CNS3 and by 84% in 9-13 cells. Transfection with 2'-O-methlyl-mimic miR-122 increased HCV levels up to 2.5-fold. Antagomir of miR-122 also decreased Bach1 and increased HO-1 mRNA levels in CNS3, 9-13, and WT Huh-7 cells. Increasing HO-1 by silencing Bach1 with 50 nmol/L Bach1-short interfering RNA or by treatment with 5 mumol/L cobalt protoporphyrin or heme (known inducers of HO-1) decreased HCV RNA and protein by 50% in HCV replicon cells.
Conclusions: Down-regulation of HCV replication using an antagomir targeted to miR-122 is effective, specific, and selective. Increasing HO-1, by silencing the Bach1 gene or by treatment with cobalt protoporphyrin or heme, decreases HCV replication. Thus, miR-122 plays an important role in the regulation of HCV replication and HO-1/Bach1 expression in hepatocytes. Down-regulation of miR-122 and up-regulation of HO-1 may be new strategies for anti-HCV intervention and cytoprotection.