• lymphoblastoid B-cell line;
  • HCV-infection;
  • co-cultivation;
  • membrane contacts;
  • virus spread


Virus cell-to-cell spread has been reported for many different viruses and may contribute to pathogenesis of viral disease. The role played by cell-to-cell contact in hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmission was studied in vitro by cell co-cultivation experiments. A human lymphoblastoid B-cell line, infected persistently with HCV in vitro (TO.FEHCV), was used as HCV donor [Serafino et al., 2003]; recipient cells were the human hepatoma HepG2 cell line. Both cell types were co-cultured for 48 hr to allow the cell-to-cell contacts. The hepatoma HepG2 cells are not permissive to free-virus infection, but they were infected successfully using TO.FEHCV cells as source of virus. The kinetics of viral RNA synthesis and the percentage of infected cells were compared in cell-mediated-and cell-free-viral infection. After co-cultivation, a consistent proportion of hepatoma cells replicated HCV and stably expressed viral antigens. Virus produced was infectious as demonstrated by the ability to reinfect fresh B-cells. This cell model shows that permissiveness to HCV infection can be achieved in vitro in non-permissive hepatoma cells by direct cell-to-cell contacts with infected human B-cells. This mechanism of virus spread may also play a pathogenic role in vivo. J. Med. Virol. 78:192–201, 2006. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.