Autophagy protects cells from hcv-induced defects in lipid metabolism

Tiziana Vescovo, Alessandra Romagnoli, Ariel Basulto Perdomo, Marco Corazzari, Fabiola Ciccosanti, Tonino Alonzi, Roberta Nardacci, Giuseppe Ippolito, Marco Tripodi, Carmelo Garciamonzon, Oreste Lo Iacono, Mauro Piacentini, Gian Maria Fimia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background & Aims: Autophagy is a lysosome-mediated catabolic process that mediates degradation and recycling of all major components of eukaryotic cells. Different stresses, including viral and bacterial infection, induce autophagy, which can promote cell survival by removing the stress inducer or by attenuating its dangerous effects. High levels of autophagy occur during infection of cells with hepatitis C virus (HCV), but the clinical relevance of this process is not clear. Methods: Levels of autophagy were analyzed in liver biopsy samples from 22 patients with HCV infection using microtubule-associated protein-1 light chain 3 immunoblotting; associations with histological and metabolic parameters were evaluated by Pearson correlation analysis. We investigated the role of HCV-induced autophagy in lipid degradation in cells infected with the virus or replicons, and analyzed autophagosome contents by confocal microscopy and by measuring lipid levels after inhibition of autophagy by Beclin 1 knockdown or lysosome inhibitors. Results: In liver biopsy samples from patients with HCV, there was an inverse correlation between microvesicular steatosis and level of autophagy (r = -0.617; P =.002). HCV selectively induced autophagy of lipids in virus-infected and replicon cells. In each system, autophagosomes frequently colocalized with lipid deposits, mainly formed by unesterified cholesterol. Inhibition of the autophagic process in these cells significantly increased the induction of cholesterol accumulation by HCV. Conclusions: Autophagy counteracts the alterations in lipid metabolism induced by HCV. Disruption of the autophagic process might contribute to development of steatosis in patients with HCV.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)644-653
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • Lipid Accumulation
  • Lipoprotein
  • Liver Disease
  • NASH

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology


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