Exosome-mediated transmission of hepatitis C virus

Recent evidence indicates there is a role for small membrane vesicles, including exosomes, as vehicles for intercellular communication. Exosomes secreted by most cell types can mediate transfer of proteins, mRNAs, and microRNAs, but their role in the transmission of infectious agents is less established. Recent studies have shown that hepatocyte-derived exosomes containing hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA can activate innate immune cells, but the role of exosomes in the transmission of HCV between hepatocytes remains unknown.

In this study, researchers at the Erasmus MC-University Medical Center, Netherlands investigated whether exosomes transfer HCV in the presence of neutralizing antibodies. Purified exosomes isolated from HCV-infected human hepatoma Huh7.5.1 cells were shown to contain full-length viral RNA, viral protein, and particles, as determined by RT-PCR, mass spectrometry, and transmission electron microscopy. Exosomes from HCV-infected cells were capable of transmitting infection to naive human hepatoma Huh7.5.1 cells and establishing a productive infection. Even with subgenomic replicons, lacking structural viral proteins, exosome-mediated transmission of HCV RNA was observed. Treatment with patient-derived IgGs showed a variable degree of neutralization of exosome-mediated infection compared with free virus. In conclusion, this study showed that hepatic exosomes can transmit productive HCV infection in vitro and are partially resistant to antibody neutralization. This discovery sheds light on neutralizing antibodies resistant to HCV transmission by exosomes as a potential immune evasion mechanism.

  • Ramakrishnaiah V, Thumann C, Fofana I, Habersetzer F, Pan Q, de Ruiter PE, Willemsen R, Demmers JA, Stalin Raj V, Jenster G, Kwekkeboom J, Tilanus HW, Haagmans BL, Baumert TF, van der Laan LJ. (2013) Exosome-mediated transmission of hepatitis C virus between human hepatoma Huh7.5 cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA [Epub ahead of print]. [abstract]

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