Acute Hepatitis C Virus Infection Induces Consistent Changes in Circulating miRNAs that are Associated with Non-Lytic Hepatocyte Release.
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Plasma microRNAs (miRNAs) change in abundance in response to disease, and have been associated with liver fibrosis severity in chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. However, the early dynamics of miRNA release during acute HCV infection are poorly understood. In addition, circulating miRNA signatures have been difficult to reproduce among separate populations. We studied plasma miRNA abundance during acute HCV infection to identify a miRNA signature of early infection. We measured 754 plasma miRNAs by quantitative PCR array in a discovery cohort of 22 individuals before and during acute HCV infection and after spontaneous resolution (n=11) or persistence (n=11) to identify a plasma miRNA signature. The discovery cohort derived from Baltimore Before and After Acute Study of Hepatitis. During acute HCV infection, increases in miR-122 (P<.01) and miR-885-5p (Pcorrected<.05) and a decrease in miR-494 (Pcorrected<.05) were observed at the earliest time-points after virus detection. Changes in miR-122 and miR-885-5p were sustained in persistent (P<.001) but not resolved HCV infection. The circulating miRNA signature of acute HCV infection was confirmed in a separate validation cohort that derived from the San Francisco-based UFO Study (n=28). As further confirmation, cellular changes of signature miRNAs were examined in a tissue-culture model of HCV in hepatoma cells: HCV infection induced extracellular release of miR-122 and miR-885-5p despite unperturbed intracellular levels. In contrast, miR-494 accumulated intracellularly (P<.05). Collectively, these data are inconsistent with necrolytic release of hepatocyte miRNAs into the plasma during acute HCV infection of humans.MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNA molecules that emerging research shows can transmit regulatory signals between cells in health and disease. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infects 2% of humans worldwide, and chronic HCV infection is a major cause of severe liver disease. We profiled plasma miRNAs in injection drug users before, during, and (in the people with resolution) after HCV infection. We discovered miRNA signatures of acute and persistent viremia, and confirmed these findings two ways: i) in a separate cohort of people with newly acquired HCV infection and ii) in an HCV cell culture system. Our results demonstrate that acute HCV infection induces early changes in the abundance of specific plasma miRNAs that may affect the host response to HCV infection.Copyright © 2015, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.