Sensitization to Fas-mediated apoptosis by hepatitis C virus core protein

Virology. 1997 Mar 3;229(1):68-76. doi: 10.1006/viro.1996.8420.


We have characterized viral-cell interactions of hepatitis C virus (HCV) and liver cells to study the pathogenesis of HCV infection. HepG2 cells constitutively expressing HCV core protein showed apoptotic changes in response to stimulation with anti-Fas monoclonal antibody. Cells treated with the antibody showed extensive cell rounding, shrinkage, and cytoplasmic blebbing and finally detached from plates. Fragmentation of the chromatin was observed in the nucleus and DNA ladders were detected. In contrast, cells expressing HCV envelope, nonstructural proteins or normal HepG2 cells did not exhibit such Fas-mediated apoptosis. However, expression of Fas receptor was not upregulated on the surface of the cells expressing HCV core protein. Apoptotic cell death was prevented by pretreatment with a specific inhibitor of the cysteine protease CPP32, while the specific inhibitor of interleukin-1 beta-converting enzyme did not show the preventive effect. The results suggest (i) that intracellular expression of HCV core protein makes cells prone to apoptotic death without upregulation of surface Fas expression and (ii) that the CPP32 protease plays a part in the apoptosis effector pathway of HCV core-expressing cells. HCV core protein may have a role in immune-mediated liver cell injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Hepacivirus / immunology
  • Humans
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Viral Core Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Core Proteins / physiology*
  • fas Receptor / immunology
  • fas Receptor / metabolism
  • fas Receptor / physiology*


  • Viral Core Proteins
  • fas Receptor
  • nucleocapsid protein, Hepatitis C virus