Background: Various kinds of autoimmune diseases have been reported to have a significant relationship with persistent hepatitis c virus (HCV) infection and Th17 cells. Previously, our group reported that the existence of HCV in T lymphocytes could affect the development of CD4+ helper T cells and their proliferation, in addition to the induction of immunoglobulin hyper-mutation. Methods: Therefore, we analyzed the relationship between persistent infection of HCV and the mechanism of Th17 cell induction ex vivo and in vitro. Results: The prevalence of autoimmune-related diseases in chronic hepatitis c patients (CH-C) was significantly higher than in other types of chronic hepatitis (hepatitis B and NASH). A significantly higher frequency of IL6 and TGF-β double-high patients was detected in CH-C than in other liver diseases. Moreover, these double-high patients had significantly higher positivity of anti-nuclear antibody, cryoglobulinemia, and lymphotropic HCV and higher amounts of IL1-β, IL21, IL23. In addition to the previously reported lymphotropic SB-HCV strain, we found a novel, genotype 1b lymphotropic HCV (Ly-HCV), by deep sequencing analysis. Lymphotropic-HCV replication could be detected in the lymphoid cells with various kinds of cytokine-conditions including IL1β, IL23, IL6 and TGF-β in vitro. Infection by HCV could significantly enhance the development of Th17 cells. The HCV protein responsible for inducing the Th17 cells was HCV-Core protein, which could enhance the STAT-3 signaling and up-regulate the expression of RORγt as a Th17 master gene. Conclusion: Infection by lymphotropic HCV might enhance the Th17 development and contribute to understanding the pathogenesis of autoimmune-related diseases.
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