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Abstract

HepaRG human liver progenitor cells exhibit morphology and functionality of adult hepatocytes. We investigated the susceptibility of HepaRG hepatocytes to in vitro infection with serum-derived hepatitis C virus (HCV) particles (HCVsp) and the potential neutralizing activity of the E1E2-specific monoclonal antibody (mAb) D32.10. The infection was performed using HCVsp when the cells actively divided at day 3 postplating. HCV RNA, E1E2, and core antigens were quantified in HCV particles recovered from culture supernatants of differentiated cells for up to 66 days. The density distributions of particles were analyzed on iodixanol or sucrose gradients. Electron microscopy (EM) and immune-EM studies were performed for ultrastructural analysis of cells and localization of HCV E1E2 proteins in thin sections. HCV infection of HepaRG cells was documented by increasing production of E1E2-core-RNA(+) HCV particles from day 21 to day 63. Infectious particles sedimented between 1.06 and 1.12 g/mL in iodixanol gradients. E1E2 and core antigens were expressed in 50% of HCV-infected cells at day 31. The D32.10 mAb strongly inhibited HCV RNA production in HepaRG culture supernatants. Infected HepaRG cells frozen at day 56 were reseeded at low density. After only 1-3 subcultures and induction of a cell differentiation process the HepaRG cells produced high titer HCV RNA and thus showed to be sustainably infected. Apolipoprotein B-associated empty E1E2 and complete HCV particles were secreted. Characteristic virus-induced intracellular membrane changes and E1E2 protein-association to vesicles were observed. Conclusion: HepaRG progenitor cells permit HCVsp infection. Differentiated HepaRG cells support long-term production of infectious lipoprotein-associated enveloped HCV particles. The E1E2-specific D32.10 mAb neutralizes the infection and this cellular model could be used as a surrogate infection system for the screening of entry inhibitors. (HEPATOLOGY 2011;)