Study of the infection of human blood derived monocyte/macrophages with hepatitis C virus in vitro



Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is essentially hepatotropic, but clinical observations based on quasispecies composition in different compartments or on viral RNA detection in cells suggest that the virus is able to infect and persist in cells other than liver cells. It was shown previously that peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) are permissive to HCV replication in vitro but at a very low rate. Since different viruses associated with chronic infections are known to persist in monocyte/macrophages, it is important to determine whether these mononuclear blood cells are susceptible preferentially to HCV. In order to study HCV interaction with monocytes/macrophages, these cells were isolated from the blood of healthy donors and incubated with HCV genotype 1b positive sera. The detection by RT-PCR of the positive- and negative-strand RNA in the cells at different times and the increase in the amount of intracellular viral RNA measured by the branched DNA assay suggest that monocyte/macrophages can support HCV RNA replication. The rate, however, is very low. The analysis of hypervariable region 1 (HVR-1) nucleotide sequences indicated that some minor variant present in the inoculum might display a specific tropism for the monocytes/macrophages. These results provide evidence that human monocytes/macrophages might represent a reservoir for HCV. This cell tropism may be a crucial factor in the pathogenesis of hepatitis C. J. Med. Virol. 65:14–22, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.