PCSK9 impedes hepatitis C virus infection in vitro and modulates liver CD81 expression


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.


Human PCSK9 is known to enhance the degradation of membrane-bound receptors such as the hepatocyte low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR), ApoER2, and very low-density lipoprotein receptor. Because the LDLR is suspected to be involved in hepatitis C virus (HCV) entry, we also tested whether PCSK9 can affect the levels of CD81, a major HCV receptor. Interestingly, stable expression of PCSK9 or a more active membrane-bound form of the protein (PCSK9-ACE2) resulted in a marked reduction in CD81 and LDLR expression. Therefore, we analyzed the antiviral effect of PCSK9 in vitro using the HCV genotype 2a (JFH1) virus. The results clearly demonstrated that cells expressing PCSK9 or PCSK9-ACE2, but not the ACE2 control protein, were resistant to HCV infection. Furthermore, addition of purified soluble PCSK9 to cell culture supernatant impeded HCV infection in a dose-dependent manner. As expected, HuH7 cells expressing PCSK9-ACE2 were also resistant to infection by HCV pseudoparticles. In addition, we showed that CD81 cell surface expression is modulated by PCSK9 in an LDLR-independent manner. Finally, in the liver of single Pcsk9 and double (Pcsk9 + Ldlr) knockout mice, both LDLR and/or CD81 protein expression levels were significantly reduced, but not those of transferrin and scavenger receptor class B type 1. Conclusion: Our results demonstrate an antiviral effect of the circulating liver PCSK9 on HCV in cells and show that PCSK9 down-regulates the level of mouse liver CD81 expression in vivo. Therefore, we propose that the plasma level and/or activity of PCSK9 may modulate HCV infectivity in humans. (HEPATOLOGY 2009.)