Hepatitis C Virus Core Protein Modulates Endoglin (CD105) Signaling Pathway for Liver Pathogenesis.J Virol 2017; 91(21)JV
Endoglin is part of the TGF-β receptor complex and has a crucial role in fibrogenesis and angiogenesis. It is also an important protein for tumor growth, survival, and cancer cell metastasis. In a previous study, we have shown that hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection induces epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) state and cancer stem-like cell (CSC) properties in human hepatocytes. Our array data suggested that endoglin (CD105) mRNA is significantly upregulated in HCV-associated CSCs. In this study, we have observed increased endoglin expression on the cell surface of an HCV core-expressing hepatocellular carcinoma (HepG2) cell line or immortalized human hepatocytes (IHH) and activation of its downstream signaling molecules. The status of phospho-SMAD1/5 and the expression of inhibitor of DNA binding protein 1 (ID1) were upregulated in HCV-infected cells or viral core gene-transfected cells. Additionally, we observed upregulation of endoglin/ID1 mRNA expression in chronic HCV patient liver biopsy samples. CSC generation by HCV core protein was dependent on the endoglin signaling pathway using activin receptor-like kinase 1 (ALK1) Fc blocking peptide and endoglin small interfering RNA (siRNA). Further, follow-up from in vitro analysis suggested that the antiapoptosis Bcl2 protein, proliferation-related cyclin D1 protein, and CSC-associated Hes1, Notch1, Nanog, and Sox2 proteins are enhanced during infection or ectopic expression of HCV core protein.IMPORTANCE Endoglin plays a crucial role in fibrogenesis and angiogenesis and is an important protein for tumor growth, survival, and cancer cell metastasis. Endoglin enhances ALK1-SMAD1/5 signaling in different cell types, leading to increased proliferation and migration responses. We have observed endoglin expression on the HCV core-expressing cell surface of human hepatocyte origin and activation of phospho-SMAD1/5 and ID1 downstream signaling molecules. ID1 protein plays a role in CSC properties, and we found that this pathway is important for antiapoptotic and cell proliferation signaling. Blocking of endoglin-ALK1-SMAD1/5 might be a good candidate for therapy for liver cancer stem cells together with liver cirrhosis.