Hepatitis C Discovery Has Potential for the Development of New Treatment

Posted on: 23 June 2011

TCD researchers have made a significant discovery in relation to Hepatitis C that increases our understanding of the disease and may lead to a new target for therapy in its treatment.

The research which has just been published in the leading US journal Hepatology shows a new mechanism used by the Hepatitis C virus to subvert the human immune system.  This mechanism could represent a new target for therapy as reversal of this blocking step could allow for restoration of the host immunity against the virus.

This work by PhD student, Danijela Petrovic led by Dr Aideen Long, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Medicine at the TCD Institute of Molecular Medicine has identified that a protein produced by the Hepatitis C virus called E2 switches off the ability of the body’s white cells to produce factors involved in stimulating the immune response.  The E2 protein accomplishes this by trapping an important enzyme called Protein Kinase C beta in a compartment in the cell membrane where it is unable to carry out its role in the regulation of secretion.

Commenting on the research Dr Aideen Long said: “The Hepatitis C virus has been an extremely effective virus in evading the body’s immune system.  This work has identified a very elegant mechanism whereby the virus can effectively nullify one of the immune system’s main arms of defense, namely the ability to produce cytokines, important regulators of the immune system, which are critical in order to produce potent immune responses to Hepatitis C.  If we can identify ways of reversing this inhibition, we could potentially produce new ways of treating Hepatitis C Virus by allowing the body’s immune response to do the work.”

This research was conducted in collaboration with Professors Dermot Kelleher and Cliona O’Farrelly at Trinity College Dublin and Professor Jane McKeating at the University of Birmingham.

This work was supported by the HEA PRTLI 3, the Health Research Board and the Wellcome Trust.