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Understanding the molecular mechanism of host-based statin resistance in hepatitis C virus replicon containing cells

A number of statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs, inhibit the in vitro replication of hepatitis C virus (HCV). In HCV-infected patients, addition of statins to the earlier standard of care therapy (pegIFN-α and ribavirin) resulted in increased sustained virological response rates. The mechanism by which statins inhibit HCV replication has not yet been elucidated. In an attempt to gain insight in the underlying mechanism, hepatoma cells carrying an HCV replicon were passaged in the presence of increasing concentrations of fluvastatin. Fluvastatin-resistant replicon containing cells could be generated and proved ∼8-fold less susceptible to fluvastatin than wild-type cultures. The growth efficiency of the resistant replicon containing cells was comparable to that of wild-type replicon cells. The fluvastatin-resistant phenotype was not conferred by mutations in the viral genome but is caused by cellular changes. The resistant cell line had a markedly increased HMG-CoA reductase expression upon statin treatment. Furthermore, the expression of the efflux transporter P-gp was increased in fluvastatin-resistant replicon cells (determined by qRT-PCR and flow cytometry). This increased expression resulted also in an increased functional transport activity as measured by the P-gp mediated efflux of calcein AM. In conclusion, we demonstrate that statin resistance in HCV replicon containing hepatoma cells is conferred by changes in the cellular environment.

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