Hepatitis E Virus-induced antiviral response by plasmacytoid dendritic cells is modulated by the ORF2 protein

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Type I and III interferons (IFN-I/III) are critical to protect the host during viral infection. IFN-mediated antiviral responses against hepatitis E virus (HEV) are suppressed and defeated by viral escape mechanisms at play in infected hepatocytes. Here, we studied the anti-HEV function of IFN secreted by plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs), which are specialized producers of IFNs. We showed that pDCs co-cultured with HEV-infected cells secreted IFN in a cell-to-cell contact-dependent manner. Pharmacological inhibitor and antibodies targeting contact proteins revealed that pDC response against HEV required the endosomal nucleic-acid sensor TLR7 and adhesion molecules, such as ICAM-I and α L β 2 -integrin. IFNs secreted by pDCs reduced viral spread. Intriguingly, ORF2, the capsid protein of HEV, can be produced in various forms by the infected cells. During infection, a fraction of the intracellular ORF2 protein localizes into the nucleus while another ORF2 fraction packages viral genomes to produce infectious virions. In parallel, glycosylated forms of ORF2 are also massively secreted by infected cells. Using viral genome expressing ORF2 mutants, we showed that glycosylated ORF2 forms contribute to better recognition of infected cells by pDCs by regulating contacts between infected cells and pDCs. ORF2 forms may thus modulate pDC-mediated anti-HEV response. Together, our results suggest that liver-resident pDCs, which exhibit comparable IFN-producing ability as blood-derived pDCs, may be essential to control HEV replication.

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