Topological and evolutional relationships between HCV core protein and hepatic lipid vesicles: studies in vitro and in conditionally transgenic mice.
AIM: To investigate a specific association between hepatic steatosis and hepatitis C virus (HCV) core. METHODS: HeLa cells and primary mouse hepatocytes were transfected with HCV core plasmid, and conditional transgenics in which hepatic over-expression of HCV core is regulated by the tetracycline-off system, were developed. The expression of the HCV core was assessed over one to six months after withdrawal of doxycycline (dox) by immunohistochemistry (IHC) and Western blotting and by sequential liver biopsy. Hepatic steatosis was evaluated using oil red stain. 8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) stains and caspase levels were conducted to clarify hepatic oxidative stress and apoptosis rate. Serum aminotransferase was checked. RESULTS: The transfected hepatocytes had globular cores under the lipid vesicles. In transgenic mice on control diet, core expression was robust, localized to the cytoplasmic vesicle membrane and strongly associated with microvesicular steatosis, which was gradually replaced by macrovesicular steatosis. However, both steatosis and core positive hepatocytes diminished with time. Increases in aminotransferase, caspase and 8-OHdG were associated with peak core expression. CONCLUSION: The core protein was readily detected and morphologically associated with steatosis in individual hepatocytes both in vitro and in vivo. In vivo, oxidative stress caused by the core potentially reduced the number of core positive hepatocytes and in parallel the level of steatosis. To our knowledge, this is the first animal model that directly shows topological relationship between HCV core and hepatic lipid vesicles.