Expression of a single gene lets scientists easily grow hepatitis C virus in the lab

 "What prevents non-mutated HCV from replicating in laboratory-grown cell lines?"

In a study published in Nature on August 12, scientists led by The Rockefeller University’s Charles M. Rice, Maurice R. and Corinne P. Greenberg Professor in Virology and head of the Laboratory of Virology and Infectious Disease, report that when they overexpressed a particular gene in human liver cancer cell lines, the virus could easily replicate. This discovery allows study of naturally occurring forms of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the lab.

“Being able to easily culture HCV in the lab has many important implications for basic science research,” says Rice. “There is still much we don’t understand about how the virus operates, and how it interacts with liver cells and the immune system.”

Scientists have long attempted to understand what makes HCV tick, and in 1999 a group of German scientists succeeded in coaxing modified forms of the virus to replicate in cells in the laboratory. However, it was soon discovered that these forms of the virus were able to replicate because they had acquired certain “adaptive” mutations.

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