Keratin proteins form intermediate filaments, which provide structural support for many tissues. Multiple keratin family members are reported to be associated with the progression of liver disease of multiple etiologies. For example, keratin 23 (KRT23) was reported as a stress-inducible protein, whose expression levels correlate with the severity of liver disease. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a human pathogen that causes chronic liver diseases including fibrosis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma. However, a link between KRT23 and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection has not been reported previously. In this study, we investigated KRT23 mRNA levels in datasets from liver biopsies of chronic hepatitis C (CHC) patients and in primary human hepatocytes experimentally infected with HCV, in addition to hepatoma cells. Interestingly, in each of these specimens, we observed an HCV-dependent increase of mRNA levels. Importantly, the KRT23 protein levels in patient plasma decreased upon viral clearance. Ectopic expression of KRT23 enhanced HCV infection; however, CRIPSPR/Cas9-mediated knockout did not show altered replication efficiency. Taken together, our study identifies KRT23 as a novel, virus-induced host-factor for hepatitis C virus.
Keywords: hepatitis C virus (HCV); host factor; keratin 23; virus–host interaction.