Hepatitis C virus impairs natural killer cell activity via viral serine protease NS3

Chang Mo Yang, Joo Chun Yoon, Jeon Han Park, Jae Myun Lee

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11 Scopus citations


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is characterized by a high frequency of chronic cases owing to the impairment of innate and adaptive immune responses. The modulation of natural killer (NK) cell functions by HCV leads to an impaired innate immune response. However, the underling mechanisms and roles of HCV proteins in this immune evasion are controversial, especially in the early phase of HCV infection. To investigate the role of HCV nonstructural proteins especially NS3 in the impairment of NK functions, NK cells were isolated from the PBMCs by negative selection. To assess the direct cytotoxicity and IFN-γ production capability of NK cells, co-cultured with uninfected, HCV-infected, HCV-NS3 DNA-transfected Huh-7.5, or HCV-NS replicon cells. To determine the effect of an NS3 serine protease inhibitor, HCV-infected Huh-7.5 cells were treated with BILN-2061. Then, NK cells were harvested and further co-cultured with K-562 target cells. NK cell functions were analyzed by flow cytometry and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. When co-cultured with HCV-infected Huh-7.5 cells, the natural cytotoxicity and IFN-γ production capability of NK cells were significantly reduced. NK cell functions were inhibited to similar levels upon co-culture with HCV-NS replicon cells, NS3-transfected cells, and HCV-infected Huh-7.5 cells. These reductions were restored by BILN-2061-treatment. Furthermore, BILN-2061-treatment significantly increased degranulation against K-562 target cells and IFN-γ productivity in NK cells. Consistent with these findings, the expression levels of activating NK cell receptors, such as NKp46 and NKp30, were also increased. In HCV-infected cells, the serine protease NS3 may play a role in the abrogation of NK cell functions in the early phase of infection through downregulation of NKp46 and NKp30 receptors on NK cells. Together, these results suggest that NS3 represents a novel drug target for the treatment of HCV infections.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0175793
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2017

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© 2017 Yang et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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