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In the plasma samples of hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected patients, lipoviroparticles (LVPs), defined as (very-) low-density viral particles immunoprecipitated with anti-β-lipoproteins antibodies are observed. This HCV-lipoprotein association has major implications with respect to our understanding of HCV assembly, secretion, and entry. However, cell culture-grown HCV (HCVcc) virions produced in Huh7 cells, which are deficient for very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) secretion, are only associated with and dependent on apolipoprotein E (apoE), not apolipoprotein B (apoB), for assembly and infectivity. In contrast to Huh7, HepG2 cells can be stimulated to produce VLDL by both oleic acid treatment and inhibition of the MEK/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) pathway but are not permissive for persistent HCV replication. Here, we developed a new HCV cell culture model to study the interaction between HCV and lipoproteins, based on engineered HepG2 cells stably replicating a blasticidin-tagged HCV JFH1 strain (JB). Control Huh7.5-JB as well as HepG2-JB cell lines persistently replicated viral RNA and expressed viral proteins with a subcellular colocalization of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), core, gpE2, and NS5A compatible with virion assembly. The intracellular RNA replication level was increased in HepG2-JB cells upon dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) treatment, MEK/ERK inhibition, and NS5A overexpression to a level similar to that observed in Huh7.5-JB cells. Both cell culture systems produced infectious virions, which were surprisingly biophysically and biochemically similar. They floated at similar densities on gradients, contained mainly apoE but not apoB, and were not neutralized by anti-apoB antibodies. This suggests that there is no correlation between the ability of cells to simultaneously replicate HCV as well as secrete VLDL and their capacity to produce LVPs.


Baptiste Jammart, Maud Michelet, Eve-Isabelle Pécheur, Romain Parent, Birke Bartosch, Fabien Zoulim, David Durantel. Very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL)-producing and hepatitis C virus-replicating HepG2 cells secrete no more lipoviroparticles than VLDL-deficient Huh7.5 cells. Journal of virology. 2013 May;87(9):5065-80

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PMID: 23427158

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