Hepatitis C virus-mediated enhancement of microRNA miR-373 impairs the JAK/STAT signaling pathway

Anupam Mukherjee, Adrian M Di Bisceglie, Ratna B Ray
Journal of Virology 2015, 89 (6): 3356-65

UNLABELLED: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a serious global health problem and establishes chronic infection in a significant number of infected humans worldwide. Interferon (IFN) and IFN-stimulated genes (ISGs) are amplified during HCV infection but fail to eliminate virus from the liver in a large number of infected patients, and the mechanism is not fully understood. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have been implicated in the control of many biological processes, including IFN signaling. To gain more insights into the role of cellular miRNAs in possible countermeasures of HCV for suppression of the host antiviral response, a miRNA array was performed by using primary human hepatocytes infected with in vitro cell culture-grown HCV. A group of miRNAs were modulated in HCV-infected primary human hepatocytes. We focused on miR-373, as this miRNA was significantly upregulated in HCV-infected primary human hepatocytes. Here, we analyzed the function of miR-373 in the context of HCV infection. HCV infection upregulates miR-373 expression in hepatocytes and HCV-infected liver biopsy specimens. Furthermore, we discovered that miR-373 directly targets Janus kinase 1 (JAK1) and IFN-regulating factor 9 (IRF9), important factors in the IFN signaling pathway. The upregulation of miR-373 by HCV also inhibited STAT1 phosphorylation, which is involved in ISG factor 3 (ISGF3) complex formation and ISG expression. The knockdown of miR-373 in hepatocytes enhanced JAK1 and IRF9 expression and reduced HCV RNA replication. Taken together, our results demonstrated that miR-373 is upregulated during HCV infection and negatively regulated the type I IFN signaling pathway by suppressing JAK1 and IRF9. Our results offer a potential therapeutic approach for antiviral intervention.

IMPORTANCE: Chronic HCV infection is one of the major causes of end-stage liver disease worldwide. Although the recent introduction of direct-acting antiviral (DAA) therapy is extremely encouraging, some infected individuals do not respond to this therapy. Furthermore, these drugs target HCV nonstructural proteins, and with selective pressure, the virus may develop a resistant strain. Therefore, understanding the impairment of IFN signals will help in designing additional therapeutic modalities. In this study, we provide evidence of HCV-mediated upregulation of miR-373 and show that miR-373 impairs IFN signaling by targeting JAK1/IRF9 molecules. The knockdown of miR-373 inhibited HCV replication by upregulating interferon-stimulating gene expression. Together, these results provided new mechanistic insights into the role of miR-373 in HCV infection and suggest a new potential target against HCV infection.

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