To study the susceptibility of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) to hepatitis C virus (HCV), we incubated cells from healthy donors with HCV-positive sera. Using RT-PCR and hybridization, the genomic viral RNA was detected in PBMC and in their supernatants until 25 days post-incubation. The PBMC of the different donors were not all permissive to HCV, but results were more constantly positive when cells from four donors were pooled. Quantification of the genomic viral RNA by the branched-DNA assay showed a decrease in the HCV RNA concentration during the first week of culture followed by a peak during the second or third week, and also an increase in the total amount of viral RNA in the inoculated cells. Although HCV RNA could be detected in the supernatants by RT-PCR, the concentration was very low. Using a sense-specific RT-PCR method, the HCV negative-strand was also detected in the cells but not in the supernatants. In two experiments PBMC were successfully infected using HCV-positive culture supernatants, therefore suggesting that infectious particles can be produced in this system. Our findings demonstrate that PBMC are permissive for HCV replication but the replication level is very low. The HCV RNA concentration measured in PBMC of 10 chronically infected patients was not significantly higher than the maximal concentration obtained in PBMC infected .


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