Published online Oct 28, 2009. doi: 10.3748/wjg.15.5014
Revised: September 27, 2009
Accepted: October 4, 2009
Published online: October 28, 2009
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) induces lipid accumulation in vitro and in vivo. The pathogenesis of steatosis is due to both viral and host factors. Viral steatosis is mostly reported in patients with genotype 3a, whereas metabolic steatosis is often associated with genotype 1 and metabolic syndrome. Several molecular mechanisms responsible for steatosis have been associated with the HCV core protein, which is able to induce gene expression and activity of sterol regulatory element binding protein 1 (SREBP1) and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ), increasing the transcription of genes involved in hepatic fatty acid synthesis. Steatosis has been also implicated in viral replication. In infected cells, HCV core protein is targeted to lipid droplets which serve as intracellular storage organelles. These studies have shown that lipid droplets are essential for virus assembly. Thus, HCV promotes steatosis as an efficient mechanism for stable viral replication. Chronic HCV infection can also induce insulin resistance. In patients with HCV, insulin resistance is more strongly associated with viral load than visceral obesity. HCV seems to lead to insulin resistance through interference of intracellular insulin signalling by HCV proteins, mainly, the serine phosphorylation of insulin receptor-1 (IRS-1) and impairment of the downstream Akt signalling pathway. The HCV core protein interferes with in vitro insulin signalling by genotype-specific mechanisms, where the role of suppressor of cytokine signal 7 (SOCS-7) in genotype 3a and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) in genotype 1 in IRS-1 downregulation play key roles. Steatosis and insulin resistance have been associated with fibrosis progression and a reduced rate of sustained response to peginterferon plus ribavirin.