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Abstract

The immunology of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection should be studied in the context of HCV antigen expression in the liver, because HCV primarily infects this organ. Indeed, the nature, function, and fate of T cells primed after antigen expression in the liver might differ from those primed when antigens are expressed systemically or in other organs, because the nature of the antigen-presenting cells (APCs) involved may be different. In addition, the normal liver contains a resident population of lymphocytes that differ from those present at other sites. Thus, we investigated whether HCV-specific CD8+ cytotoxic T cells (CTLs) could be elicited following portal vein (PV) injection of plasmid DNA in mice whose hepatic veins were transiently occluded. We show that PV injection of mice with “naked” DNA expressing the HCV-NS5a protein, under the control of a liver-specific enhancer/promoter, resulted in NS5a expression in the liver and the priming of HCV-specific CTLs. These results suggested that such a model might be relevant to the study of HCV-specific immune responses primed during natural infection.