Researchers have uncovered a group of genes that can suppress the hepatitis C virus (HCV) from infecting the liver.
Associate Professor Michael Beard, who heads the University of Adelaide’s Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory, said his team have been able to show for the first time that antiviral proteins (known as the IFITM proteins) produced by the body’s natural immune response can block the virus from entering the liver cells.
“By cloning this family of genes and expressing them individually in the liver cells, we were able to then infect those cells with hepatitis C virus propagated in the lab to show that these livers cells were resistant to infection.
“We believe they block the very early stages of the life cycle by inhibiting entry and release of the virus into the liver cells,” said Beard.
While the IFITM1, IFITM2 and IFITM3 proteins have previously been shown in laboratory settings to have anti-viral action against a number of different viruses, including the hepatitis C virus, the actual role of the proteins in suppressing the infection remained a mystery.
Beard said the team were able to demonstrated specific interactions between the proteins and the HCV entry process within the cells.
“It appears that the proteins act together in a specific way to target the virus.
“This improved understanding of the host response to the infection, and the HCV entry process, will provide new direction for the development of therapeutic treatments to either heighten this natural response, or generate mimics to target the virus specifically,” said Beard.
With approximately 233,000 Australians carrying the blood-borne virus, hepatitis C is considered a major health problem in Australia
Left unchecked the infection can lead to chronic disease and liver cancer.
Beard said, “the next stage is to pin point how these proteins can inhibit other viruses such as the hepatitis B infection.”
The study was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.