The innate and adaptive immune systems fail to control HCV infection in the majority of infected individuals. HCV is an ssRNA virus, which suggests a role for Toll-like receptors (TLRs) 7 and 8 in initiating the anti-viral response. Here we demonstrate that HCV genomic RNA harbours specific sequences that initiate an anti-HCV immune response through TLR7 and TLR8 in various antigen presenting cells. Conversely, HCV particles are detected by macrophages, but not by monocytes and DCs, through a TLR7/8 dependent mechanism; this leads to chloroquine sensitive production of pro-inflammatory cytokines including IL-1β, while the antiviral type I Interferon response is not triggered in these cells. Antibodies to DC-SIGN, a c-type lectin selectively expressed by macrophages but not pDCs or mDCs, block the production of cytokines. Novel anti-HCV vaccination strategies should target the induction of TLR7/8 stimulation in APCs in order to establish potent immune responses against HCV.
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