Scientists at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine have found that the hepatitis C virus uses the iron-uptake receptor transferrin receptor 1 to infect the body in addition to affecting its expression.
TfR1 and its role in the body
Transferrin receptor 1, or TfR1, is a cell surface receptor that is necessary for taking iron from the protein transferrin, and delivering it to cells, according to the National Institutes of Health. Transferrin is a plasma glycoprotein that aids in this process. The iron that is transferred by transferrin is used in the synthesis of hemoglobin by producing red blood cells.
Hepatitis C and its effect on TfR1
The study revealed that TfR1 can mediate the entry of the HCV into the body.
"This new knowledge reveals important insight into how the virus interacts with and changes our liver cells for its own benefit," said Susan Uprichard, Ph.D., senior author of the study. "As such, it may facilitate the development of entry inhibitors or treatments for HCV-associated iron overload."
Uprichard went on to note the importance of understanding exactly how hepatitis C affects the liver in finding a suitable means of treatment. The researchers believe that this discovery could aid in the prevention and treatment of hepatitis C, as it uncovers a step in the process of HCV infection. There is currently no cure for hepatitis C.
The hepatitis C virus is a liver disease that can be either acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis C turns into a chronic case in about 80 percent of patients, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report also noted that this research could benefit patients experiencing chronic liver disease and also those who have undergone a liver transplant by providing insight on how to prevent infection or slow the onset of disease.
Long-term hepatitis C can result in severe liver problems, according to the CDC, including serious scarring of the liver, or cirrhosis, or liver cancer. The source estimated that, in 2009, there were 16,000 cases of newly diagnosed acute hepatitis C in the U.S., and roughly 3.2 million people in the nation had chronic hepatitis C.
HCV is spread most frequently through the blood, either from sex or the sharing of infected needles.