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Abstract

With an estimated 170 million infected individuals, hepatitis C virus (HCV) has a major impact on public health. A vaccine protecting against HCV infection is not available, and current antiviral therapies are characterized by limited efficacy, high costs, and substantial side effects. Binding of the virus to the cell surface followed by viral entry is the first step in a cascade of interactions between virus and the target cell that is required for the initiation of infection. Because this step represents a critical determinant of tissue tropism and pathogenesis, it is a major target for host cell responses such as antibody-mediated virus-neutralization—and a promising target for new antiviral therapy. The recent development of novel tissue culture model systems for the study of the first steps of HCV infection has allowed rapid progress in the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of HCV binding and entry. This review summarizes the impact of recently identified viral and host cell factors for HCV attachment and entry. Clinical implications of this important process for the pathogenesis of HCV infection and novel therapeutic interventions are discussed. (HEPATOLOGY 2006;44:527–535.)