Aim: Hepcidin is a key regulator of systemic iron metabolism and its expression is modulated by hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Suppressor of cytokine signaling 1 (SOCS-1) and SOCS-3 act as negative regulators of the Jak/signal transducers and activators of transcription signaling pathway. In this study, we investigated how HCV infection modulates SOCS-1 and SOCS-3 production and how these SOCS proteins affect hepcidin production.
Methods: The effects of SOCS-1 and SOCS-3 on hepcidin production were investigated using a complete genome, HCV replicon system.
Results: Unexpectedly, basal expression levels of hepcidin (HAMP) mRNA and the bioactive form of hepcidin protein, hepcidin-25, were significantly higher in replicon cells. Regardless of HCV infection, STAT3 was activated in response to interleukin-6 (IL-6), but this activation was greater in replicon cells than in cured cells. Basal expression of the SOCS-3 protein was enhanced, but basal expression of SOCS-1 protein was reduced, in replicon cells. Expression of SOCS-3 increased dramatically in response to IL-6 stimulation but expression of SOCS-1 was not induced by IL-6. Interestingly, silencing of SOCS-1 and SOCS-3 gene expression enhanced STAT3 activation and HAMP gene expression. In addition, overexpression of SOCS-1 protein strongly suppressed STAT3 activation and HAMP gene expression.
Conclusions: This in vitro study shows that SOCS-3 expression was enhanced but SOCS-1 expression was reduced by HCV infection. The upregulation of hepcidin induced by IL-6 was found to be negatively regulated by SOCS-1 and SOCS-3. The modulation of SOCS1 and SOCS3 in HCV-infected hepatocytes may explain, at least in part, the relative shortage of hepcidin production in CH-C.