Upregulation of interferon (IFN)-stimulated genes (ISGs), including IFN-stimulated gene 15 (ISG15) and other members of the ISG15 pathway, in pre-treatment liver tissue of patients chronically infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) is associated with subsequent treatment failure (pegylated IFN-/ribavirin). This study assessed the effect of ISG15 on HCV production . The levels of ISG15 and of its conjugation to target proteins (ISGylation) were increased by plasmid transfection, but ISGylation was inhibited by small interfering RNA directed against the E1 activating enzyme, Ube1L, in Huh7.5 cells. Cells were infected with HCV FL-J6/JFH virus, and HCV RNA and viral titres were determined. Levels of both HCV RNA and virus increased when levels of ISG15 and ISGylation were increased, and decreased when ISGylation was inhibited. The effects of ISGylation on HCV were independent of upstream IFN signalling: IFN--induced ISG expression was not altered by Ube1L knockdown. Thus, although ISG15 has antiviral activity against most viruses, ISG15 promotes HCV production. HCV might exploit ISG15 as a host immune evasion mechanism, and this may in part explain how increased expression of ISGs, especially ISG15, correlates with subsequent IFN-based treatment failure.


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