Background: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a global health problem. A number of studies have implicated a direct role of cellular lipid metabolism in the HCV life cycle and inhibitors of the mevalonate pathway have been demonstrated to result in an antiviral state within the host cell. Transcriptome profiling was conducted on Huh-7 human hepatoma cells bearing subgenomic HCV replicons with and without treatment with 25-hydroxycholesterol (25-HC), an inhibitor of the mevalonate pathway that alters lipid metabolism, to assess metabolic determinants of pro- and antiviral states within the host cell. These data were compared with gene expression profiles from HCV-infected chimpanzees.
Results: Transcriptome profiling of Huh-7 cells treated with 25-HC gave 47 downregulated genes, 16 of which are clearly related to the mevalonate pathway. Fewer genes were observed to be upregulated (22) in the presence of 25-HC and 5 genes were uniquely upregulated in the HCV replicon bearing cells. Comparison of these gene expression profiles with data collected during the initial rise in viremia in 4 previously characterized HCV-infected chimpanzees yielded 54 overlapping genes, 4 of which showed interesting differential regulation at the mRNA level in both systems. These genes are PROX1, INSIG-1, NK4, and UBD. The expression of these genes was perturbed with siRNAs and with overexpression vectors in HCV replicon cells, and the effect on HCV replication and translation was assessed. Both PROX1 and NK4 regulated HCV replication in conjunction with an antiviral state induced by 25-hydroxycholesterol.
Conclusion: Treatment of Huh-7 cells bearing HCV replicons with 25-HC leads to the downregulation of many key genes involved in the mevalonate pathway leading to an antiviral state within the host cell. Furthermore, dysregulation of a larger subset of genes not directly related to the mevalonate pathway occurs both in 25-HC-treated HCV replicon harbouring cells as well as during the initial rise in viremia in infected chimpanzees. Functional studies of 3 of these genes demonstrates that they do not directly act as antiviral gene products but that they indirectly contribute to the antiviral state in the host cell. These genes may also represent novel biomarkers for HCV infection, since they demonstrate an outcome-specific expression profile.