Targeting miRNAs to treat Hepatitis C Virus infections and liver pathology: Inhibiting the virus and altering the host

Pharmacol Res. 2013 Sep:75:48-59. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2013.03.004. Epub 2013 Mar 27.


Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infection-induced liver disease is a growing problem worldwide, and is the primary cause of liver failure requiring liver transplantation in North America. Improved therapeutic strategies are required to control and possibly eradicate HCV infections, and to modulate HCV-induced liver disease. Cellular microRNAs anneal to and regulate mRNA translation and stability and form a regulatory network that modulates virtually every cellular process. Thus, miRNAs are promising cellular targets for therapeutic intervention for an array of diseases including cancer, metabolic diseases, and virus infections. In this review we outline the features of miRNA regulation and how miRNAs may be targeted in strategies to modulate HCV replication and pathogenesis. In particular, we highlight miR-122, a miRNA that directly modulates the HCV life cycle using an unusual mechanism. This miRNA is very important since miR-122 antagonists dramatically reduced HCV titres in HCV-infected chimpanzees and humans and currently represents the most likely candidate to be the first miRNA-based therapy licensed for use. However, we also discuss other miRNAs that directly or indirectly alter HCV replication efficiency, liver cirrhosis, fibrosis and the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). We also discuss a few miRNAs that might be targets to treat HCV in cases of HCV/HIV co-infection. Finally, we review methods to deliver miRNA antagonists and mimics to the liver. In the future, it may be possible to design and deliver specific combinations of miRNA antagonists and mimics to cure HCV infection or to limit liver pathogenesis.

Keywords: HCV; HCV/HCV co-infection; Hepatitis C Virus; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Liver cirrhosis; Liver fibrosis; miR-122; miRNA antagonist; miRNA mimic; miRNA therapeutic; microRNA; microRNA regulation of liver disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Targeting / methods*
  • Hepacivirus / growth & development
  • Hepacivirus / physiology*
  • Hepatitis C / genetics
  • Hepatitis C / pathology
  • Hepatitis C / therapy*
  • Hepatitis C / virology
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Liver / virology
  • MicroRNAs / antagonists & inhibitors
  • MicroRNAs / biosynthesis
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Messenger