Autophagy, a process for catabolizing cytoplasmic components, has been implicated in the modulation of interactions between RNA viruses and their host. However, the mechanism underlying the functional role of autophagy in the viral life cycle still remains unclear. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a single-stranded, positive-sense, membrane-enveloped RNA virus that can cause chronic liver disease. Here we report that HCV induces the unfolded protein response (UPR), which in turn activates the autophagic pathway to promote HCV RNA replication in human hepatoma cells. Further analysis revealed that the entire autophagic process through to complete autolysosome maturation was required to promote HCV RNA replication and that it did so by suppressing innate antiviral immunity. Gene silencing or activation of the UPR-autophagy pathway activated or repressed, respectively, IFN-β activation mediated by an HCV-derived pathogen-associated molecular pattern (PAMP). Similar results were achieved with a PAMP derived from Dengue virus (DEV), indicating that HCV and DEV may both exploit the UPR-autophagy pathway to escape the innate immune response. Taken together, these results not only define the physiological significance of HCV-induced autophagy, but also shed light on the knowledge of host cellular responses upon HCV infection as well as on exploration of therapeutic targets for controlling HCV infection.
Po-Yuan Ke, Steve S.-L. Chen