Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is associated with inflammation of liver endothelium, which contributes to the pathogenesis of chronic hepatitis. The mechanism of this endothelitis is not understood, since the virus does not appear to infect endothelial cells productively. Here, an 'innocent bystander' mechanism related to HCV proteins was hypothesized and it was investigated whether the binding of HCV particles to human endothelium induced functional changes in the cells. Exposure of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) to HCV-like particles (HCV-LPs) resulted in increased interleukin 8 (IL8) production and induction of apoptosis. The IL8 supernatants collected after stimulation of HUVECs with HCV-LPs, BV-GUS (control baculovirus containing β-glucuronidase) and appropriate controls were used to assay the transendothelial migration of neutrophils. This assay confirmed that HCV-LP-induced IL8 was functionally active. Using specific NF-κB inhibitors, it was also shown that HCV-LP-induced NF-κB activity mediated IL8 production in HUVECs. Apoptosis appeared to be mediated by the Fas/Fas-L pathway, as neutralizing antibodies for Fas and Fas-L significantly protected HUVECs against HCV-LP-induced apoptosis. Treatment of HUVECs with HCV-LPs also enhanced cellular Fas-L expression and augmented caspase-3 activation. This was confirmed by using a specific caspase-3 inhibitor, Z-Asp-Glu-Val-Asp-fluoromethyl ketone. As shown by blocking of specific chemokine receptors for IL8 on HUVECs, the induction of IL8 did not appear to contribute to HCV-LP-induced apoptosis. These results suggest that HCV proteins can trigger the release of inflammatory chemokines such as IL8 and cause endothelial apoptosis, thereby facilitating endothelitis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas