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The Bank Vole (Clethrionomys glareolus) - Small Animal Model for Hepacivirus Infection

Many people worldwide suffer from hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, which is frequently persistent. The lack of efficient vaccines against HCV and the unavailability of or limited compliance with existing antiviral therapies is problematic for health care systems worldwide. Improved small animal models would support further hepacivirus research, including development of vaccines and novel antivirals. The recent discovery of several mammalian hepaciviruses may facilitate such research. In this study, we demonstrated that bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus) were susceptible to bank vole-associated Hepacivirus F and Hepacivirus J strains, based on the detection of hepaciviral RNA in 52 of 55 experimentally inoculated voles. In contrast, interferon α/β receptor deficient C57/Bl6 mice were resistant to infection with both bank vole hepaciviruses (BvHVs). The highest viral genome loads in infected voles were detected in the liver, and viral RNA was visualized by in situ hybridization in hepatocytes, confirming a marked hepatotropism. Furthermore, liver lesions in infected voles resembled those of HCV infection in humans. In conclusion, infection with both BvHVs in their natural hosts shares striking similarities to HCV infection in humans and may represent promising small animal models for this important human disease.

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