Background & Aims The signaling molecule and transcriptional regulator SMAD6, which inhibits the transforming growth factor β signaling pathway, is required for infection of hepatocytes by hepatitis C virus (HCV). We investigated the mechanisms by which SMAD6 and another inhibitory SMAD (SMAD7) promote HCV infection in human hepatoma cells and hepatocytes. Methods We infected Huh7 and Huh7.5.1 cells and primary human hepatocytes with Japanese fulminant hepatitis-1 (JFH1) HCV cell culture system (HCVcc). We then measured HCV binding, intracellular levels of HCV RNA, and expression of target genes. We examined HCV entry in HepG2/microRNA (miR) 122/CD81 cells, which support entry and replication of HCV, were transfected these cells with small interfering RNAs targeting inhibitory SMADs to analyze gene expression profiles. Uptake of labeled low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and cholesterol was measured. Cell surface proteins were quantified by flow cytometry. We obtained liver biopsy samples from 69 patients with chronic HCV infection and 19 uninfected individuals (controls) and measured levels of syndecan 1 (SDC1), SMAD7, and SMAD6 messenger RNAs (mRNAs). Results Small interfering RNA knockdown of SMAD6 blocked the binding and infection of hepatoma cell lines and primary human hepatocytes by HCV, whereas SMAD6 overexpression increased HCV infection. We found levels of mRNAs encoding heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs), particularly SDC1 mRNA, and cell surface levels of heparan sulfate to be reduced in cells after SMAD6 knockdown. SMAD6 knockdown also reduced transcription of genes encoding lipoprotein and cholesterol uptake receptors, including the LDL receptor (LDLR), the very LDLR, and the scavenger receptor class B member 1 in hepatocytes; knockdown of SMAD6 also inhibited cell uptake of cholesterol and lipoprotein. Overexpression of SMAD6 increased the expression of these genes. Similar effects were observed with knockdown and overexpression of SMAD7. In addition, HCV infection of cells increased the expression of SMAD6, which required the activity of nuclear factor-κB, but not transforming growth factor β. Liver tissues from patients with chronic HCV infection had significantly higher levels of SMAD6, SMAD7, and HSPG mRNAs than controls. Conclusions In studies of hepatoma cell lines and primary human hepatocytes, we found that infection with HCV leads to activation of nuclear factor-κB, resulting in increased expression of SMAD6 and SMAD7. Up-regulation of SMAD6 and SMAD7 induces the expression of HSPGs, such as SDC1, as well as LDLR, very LDLR, and the scavenger receptor class B member 1, which promote HCV entry and propagation, as well as cellular uptake of cholesterol and lipoprotein.
- Viral Entry
ASJC Scopus subject areas