Hepatitis C virus-induced cancer stem cell-like signatures in cell culture and murine tumor xenografts

J Virol. 2011 Dec;85(23):12292-303. doi: 10.1128/JVI.05920-11. Epub 2011 Sep 21.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a prominent risk factor for the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Similar to most solid tumors, HCCs are believed to contain poorly differentiated cancer stem cell-like cells (CSCs) that initiate tumorigenesis and confer resistance to chemotherapy. In these studies, we demonstrate that the expression of an HCV subgenomic replicon in cultured cells results in the acquisition of CSC traits. These traits include enhanced expression of doublecortin and CaM kinase-like-1 (DCAMKL-1), Lgr5, CD133, α-fetoprotein, cytokeratin-19 (CK19), Lin28, and c-Myc. Conversely, curing of the replicon from these cells results in diminished expression of these factors. The putative stem cell marker DCAMKL-1 is also elevated in response to the overexpression of a cassette of pluripotency factors. The DCAMKL-1-positive cells isolated from hepatoma cell lines by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) form spheroids in Matrigel. The HCV RNA abundance and NS5B levels are significantly reduced by the small interfering RNA (siRNA)-led depletion of DCAMKL-1. We further demonstrate that HCV replicon-expressing cells initiate distinct tumor phenotypes compared to the tumors initiated by parent cells lacking the replicon. This HCV-induced phenotype is characterized by high-level expression/coexpression of DCAMKL-1, CK19, α-fetoprotein, and active c-Src. The results obtained by the analysis of liver tissues from HCV-positive patients and liver tissue microarrays reiterate these observations. In conclusion, chronic HCV infection appears to predispose cells toward the path of acquiring cancer stem cell-like traits by inducing DCAMKL-1 and hepatic progenitor and stem cell-related factors. DCAMKL-1 also represents a novel cellular target for combating HCV-induced hepatocarcinogenesis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / virology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Hepacivirus / genetics
  • Hepacivirus / pathogenicity*
  • Hepatitis C / genetics
  • Hepatitis C / pathology
  • Hepatitis C / virology
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism*
  • Keratin-19 / genetics
  • Keratin-19 / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / virology
  • Liver Neoplasms / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / virology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • RNA, Viral / genetics*
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Replicon
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Transplantation, Heterologous


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Keratin-19
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • RNA, Viral
  • DCLK1 protein, human
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases