Background. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) nonstructural protein 5A (NS5A) has been shown to modulate multiple cellular processes, including apoptosis. The aim of this study was to assess the effects of HCV NS5A on apoptosis induced by Toll-like receptor (TLR) 4 ligand, lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Methods. Apoptotic responses to TLR4 ligands and the expression of molecules involved in TLR signaling pathways in human hepatocytes were examined with or without expression of HCV NS5A. Results. HCV NS5A protected HepG2 hepatocytes against LPS-induced apoptosis, an effect linked to reduced TLR4 expression. A similar downregulation of TLR4 expression was observed in Huh-7-expressing genotype 1b and 2a. In agreement with these findings, NS5A inhibited the expression of numerous genes encoding for molecules involved in TLR4 signaling, such as CD14, MD-2, myeloid differentiation primary response gene 88, interferon regulatory factor 3, and nuclear factor-κB2. Consistent with a conferred prosurvival advantage, NS5A diminished the poly(adenosine diphosphate-ribose) polymerase cleavage and the activation of caspases 3, 7, 8, and 9 and increased the expression of anti-apoptotic molecules Bcl-2 and c-FLIP. Conclusions. HCV NS5A downregulates TLR4 signaling and LPS-induced apoptotic pathways in human hepatocytes, suggesting that disruption of TLR4-mediated apoptosis may play a role in the pathogenesis of HCV infection
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