Evasion of host immune surveillance by hepatitis c virus: potential roles in viral persistence
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Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major human pathogen that causes mild to severe liver disease worldwide. This positive strand RNA virus is remarkably efficient at establishing chronic infections. In order for a noncytopathic virus such as HCV to persist, the virus must escape immune recognition or evade host immune surveillance. Immune escape via the hypervariable region of the E2 envelope protein has been postulated as one mechanism for HCV persistent infection. Such hypervariability within the E2 protein may be under selective pressure from protective B cell or T cell responses and be able to escape immune recognition by rapid mutation of antigenic site. In addition to antigenic variation, HCV may also suppress immune response, leading to dampening of cellular immunity. This is supported by recent studies in our laboratory demonstrating that the HCV core protein can suppress host immune responses to vaccinia virus by downregulating viral specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses and cytokine production. An understanding of the mechanisms behind HCV persistence will provide a basis for the rational design of vaccines and novel therapeutic agents targeting human HCV infection.
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I. P. Moorman, Divisions of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Box 485, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908, USA