Ann Conkle
Jan 24, 2012

Entry point for hepatitis C infection identified

A molecule embedded in the membrane of human liver cells that aids in cholesterol absorption also allows the entry of hepatitis C virus (HCV), the first step in hepatitis C infection. Researchers suspected that a receptor called NPC1L1, which helps maintain cholesterol balance, might also be transporting the virus into the cell. The researchers showed that blocking access to the NPC1L1 receptor prevented the virus from entering and infecting cells. The FDA-approved drug ezetimibe is readily available and perfectly targeted to the receptor, so the researchers had an ideal method for testing NPC1L1's involvement in HCV infection. They used the drug to block the receptor before, during and after inoculation with the virus, in cell culture and in a small animal model. Ezetimibe inhibited HCV infection in cell culture and in mice transplanted with human liver cells. And, unlike any currently available drugs, ezetimibe was able to inhibit infection by all six types of HCV.