The primary reservoir for hepatitis C virus (HCV) replication in vivo is believed to be hepatocytes within the liver. Three host cell molecules have been reported to be important entry factors for receptors for HCV: the tetraspanin CD81, scavenger receptor BI (SR-BI), and the tight-junction (TJ) protein claudin 1 (CLDN1). The recent discovery of a TJ protein as a critical coreceptor highlighted the importance of studying the effect(s) of TJ formation and cell polarization on HCV entry. The colorectal adenocarcinoma Caco-2 cell line forms polarized monolayers containing functional TJs and was found to express the CD81, SR-BI, and CLDN1 proteins. Viral receptor expression levels increased upon polarization, and CLDN1 relocalized from the apical pole of the lateral cell membrane to the lateral cell-cell junction and basolateral domains. In contrast, expression and localization of the TJ proteins ZO-1 and occludin 1 were unchanged upon polarization. HCV infected polarized and nonpolarized Caco-2 cells to comparable levels, and entry was neutralized by anti-E2 monoclonal antibodies, demonstrating glycoprotein-dependent entry. HCV pseudoparticle infection and recombinant HCV E1E2 glycoprotein interaction with polarized Caco-2 cells occurred predominantly at the apical surface. Disruption of TJs significantly increased HCV entry. These data support a model where TJs provide a physical barrier for viral access to receptors expressed on lateral and basolateral cellular domains
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