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Abstract

Hepatic steatosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) are common and serious features of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, and the core protein has been shown to play distinct roles in the pathogenesis. Here we report the direct interaction of HCV core protein with retinoid X receptor α (RXRα), a transcriptional regulator that controls many aspects of cell proliferation, differentiation, and lipid metabolism. The core protein binds to the DNA-binding domain of RXRα, leading to increase the DNA binding of RXRα to its responsive element. In addition, RXRα is activated in cells expressing the core protein as well as in the livers of the core-transgenic mice that would develop hepatic steatosis and HCC later in their lives. Using promoter genes of cellular retinol binding protein II (CRBPII) and acyl-CoA oxidase as reporters, we also show that the expression of the core protein enhances the transcriptional activity regulated by the RXRα homodimer as well as by the heterodimer with peroxisome proliferator activated receptor α. Furthermore, expression of the CRBPII gene is also up-regulated in the livers of HCV core-transgenic mice. In conclusion, these results suggest that modulation of RXRα-controlled gene expression via interaction with the core protein contributes to the pathogenesis of HCV infection.