STRATEGIES FOR PREVENTION AND TREATMENT OF HEPATITIS C VIRUS INFECTION
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Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the causative agent of Hepatitis C, a serious global health problem which results in liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Currently there is no effective treatment or vaccine against the virus. Therefore, development of a therapeutic vaccine is of paramount importance. In this project, three alternative approaches were used to control HCV including a DNA vaccine, a recombinant viral vaccine and RNA interference. The first approach was to test the effect of different promoters on the efficacy of a DNA vaccine against HCV. Plasmids encoding HCV-NS3 and E1 antigens were designed under three different promoters, adenoviral E1A, MLP, and CMV ie. The promoter effect on the antigen expression in 293 cells, as well as on the antibody level in immunized BALB/c mice, was evaluated. The results showed that the antigens were successfully expressed from all vectors. The CMV ie promoter induced the highest antigen expression and the highest antibody level. Second, the efficiency of a recombinant adenovirus vaccine encoding HCV-NS3 was compared to that of a HCV-NS3 plasmid vaccine. The results showed that the recombinant adenovirus vaccine induced higher antibody levels as compared to the plasmid vaccine. The relationship between the immune response and miRNA was also evaluated. The levels of mir-181, mir-155, mir-21 and mir-296 were quantified in the sera of immunized animals. mir-181 and mir-21 were found to be upregulated in animals injected with adenoviral vectors. Third, two recombinant adenoviruses encoding siRNAs targeting both the helicase and protease parts of the NS3 region were tested for their ability to inhibit NS3 expression. The results showed that the siRNA against protease was more effective in silencing the HCV-NS3 gene in a HCV replicon cell line. This result confirmed the efficiency of adenovirus for siRNA delivery. These results confirmed that CMV ie is optimum promoter for immune response induction. Adenovirus was shown to be an effective delivery vector for antigens or siRNAs. In addition, miRNAs were proved to be involved in the regulation of immune response.