The molecular mechanisms of assembly and budding of hepatitis C virus (HCV) remain poorly understood. The budding of several enveloped viruses requires an endosomal sorting complex required for transport (ESCRT), which is part of the cellular machinery used to form multivesicular bodies (MVBs). Here, we demonstrated that Hrs, an ESCRT-0 component, is critical for the budding of HCV through the exosomal secretion pathway. Hrs depletion caused reduced exosome production, which paralleled with the decrease of HCV replication in the host cell, and that in the culture supernatant. Sucrose-density gradient separation of the culture supernatant of HCV-infected cells revealed the co-existence of HCV core proteins and the exosome marker. Furthermore, both the core protein and an envelope protein of HCV were detected in the intraluminal vesicles of MVBs. These results suggested that HCV secretion from host cells requires Hrs-dependent exosomal pathway in which the viral assembly is also involved.
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