patients infected with Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatocytes express low levels of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), the SARS-CoV-2 entry receptor, raising the possibility of HCV-SARS-CoV-2 coinfection in the liver. This work aimed to explore whether HCV and SARS-CoV-2 coinfect hepatocytes and the interplay between these viruses. We demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 coinfects HCV-infected Huh7.5 (Huh7.5HCV) cells. Both viruses replicated efficiently in the coinfected cells, with HCV replication enhanced in coinfected compared to HCV-mono-infected cells. Strikingly, Huh7.5HCV cells were eight fold more susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 pseudoviruses than naive Huh7.5 cells, suggesting enhanced SARS-CoV-2 entry into HCV-preinfected hepatocytes. In addition, we observed increased binding of spike receptor-binding domain (RBD) protein to Huh7.5HCV cells, as well as enhanced cell-to-cell fusion of Huh7.5HCV cells with spike-expressing Huh7.5 cells. We explored the mechanism of enhanced SARS-CoV-2 entry and identified an increased ACE2 mRNA and protein levels in Huh7.5HCV cells, primary hepatocytes, and in data from infected liver biopsies obtained from database. Importantly, higher expression of ACE2 increased HCV infection by enhancing its binding to the host cell, underscoring its role in the HCV life cycle as well. Transcriptome analysis revealed that shared host signaling pathways were induced in HCV-SARS-CoV-2 coinfection. This study revealed complex interactions between HCV and SARS-CoV-2 infections in hepatocytes, which may lead to the increased liver damage recently reported in HCV-positive COVID-19 patients.
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© 2022 Domovitz et al.
- hepatitis C virus