Background and Aims. Ubiquitin-specific protease 18 (USP18) is involved in immunoregulation and response to interferon- (IFN-) based treatment in patients chronically infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV). We investigated whether and how its upregulation alters HCV infection. Methods. Overexpression of wild-type (USP18 WT) or catalytically inactive mutant (USP18 C64S) USP18 was examined for effects on HCV replication in the absence and presence of IFNα or IFNλ using both the HCV-infective model and replicon cells. The IFN signaling pathway was assessed via STAT1 phosphorylation (western blot) and downstream ISG expression (real-time PCR). Mechanistic roles were sought by quantifying microRNA-122 levels and J6/JFH1 infectivity of Huh7.5 cells. Results. We found that overexpression of either USP18 WT or USP18 C64S stimulated HCV production and blunted the anti-HCV effect of IFNα and IFNλ in the infective model but not in the replicon system. Overexpressed USP18 showed no effect on Jak/STAT signaling nor on microRNA-122 expression. However, USP18 upregulation markedly increased J6/JFH1 infectivity and promoted the expression of the key HCV entry factor CD81 on Huh7.5 cells. Conclusions. USP18 stimulates HCV production and blunts the effect of both type I and III IFNs by fostering a cellular environment characterized by upregulation of CD81, promoting virus entry and infectivity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas