B-lymphocytes are predominantly involved in viral propagation of hepatitis C virus (HCV)
Recent reports have shown that HCV infection is not only restricted to hepatocytes. Like hepatitis B virus (HBV), which also was thought to be strictly hepatotropic in early molecular and cellular investigations, infection of lymphoid cells by HCV in vivo has been demonstrated. We showed that total peripheral blood leukocytes of chronically HCV-infected patients are infected by detection of plus- and minus- stranded HCV RNA using strand-specific oligonucleotide primers in the RT-PCR. These cells also represent extrahepatic sites for the viral replication, as demonstrated by incorporation of [3H]-uridine into nascent RNA after stimulation of the cells with a mitogen. Furthermore, total PBML from an uninfected person could be infected in vitro using an HCV-positive serum. It could be shown that replication of HCV RNA takes place in these cells. Examination of different subsets of PBML showed predominant infection of B-lymphocytes during HCV disease. Additionally, infection of T-lymphocytes was detected in about 50% of all chronically HCV-infected patients.