Superinfection exclusion is the ability of an established virus infection to interfere with infection by a second virus. In this study, we found that Huh-7.5 cells acutely infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotype 2a (chimeric strain J6/JFH) and cells harboring HCV genotype 1a, 1b, or 2a full-length or subgenomic replicons were resistant to infection with cell culture-produced HCV (HCVcc). Replicon-containing cells became permissive for HCVcc infection after treatment with an HCV-specific protease inhibitor. With the exception of cells harboring a J6/JFH-FLneo replicon, infected or replicon-containing cells were permissive for HCV pseudoparticle (HCVpp) entry, demonstrating a postentry superinfection block downstream of primary translation. The surprising resistance of J6/JFH-FLneo replicon-containing cells to HCVpp infection suggested a defect in virus entry. This block was due to reduced expression of the HCV coreceptor CD81. Further analyses indicated that J6/JFH may be toxic for cells expressing high levels of CD81, thus selecting for a CD81(low) population. CD81 down regulation was not observed in acutely infected cells, suggesting that this may not be a general mechanism of HCV superinfection exclusion. Thus, HCV establishes superinfection exclusion at a postentry step, and this effect is reversible by treatment of infected cells with antiviral compounds
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