Recently, we reported that β-carotene, vitamin D2, and linoleic acid inhibited hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA replication in hepatoma cells. Interestingly, in the course of the study, we found that the antioxidant vitamin E negated the anti-HCV activities of these nutrients. These results suggest that the oxidative stress caused by the three nutrients is involved in their anti-HCV activities. However, the molecular mechanism by which oxidative stress induces anti-HCV status remains unknown. Oxidative stress is also known to activate extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). Therefore, we hypothesized that oxidative stress induces anti-HCV status via the mitogen activated protein kinase(MAPK)/ERK kinase (MEK)-ERK1/2 signaling pathway. In this study, we found that the MEK1/2-specific inhibitor U0126 abolished the anti-HCV activities of the three nutrients in a dose-dependent manner. Moreover, U0126 significantly attenuated the anti-HCV activities of polyunsaturated fatty acids, interferon-γ, and cyclosporine A, but not statins. We further demonstrated that, with the exception of the statins, all of these anti-HCV nutrients and reagents actually induced activation of the MEK-ERK1/2 signaling pathway, which was inhibited or reduced by treatment not only with U0126 but also with vitamin E. We also demonstrated that phosphorylation of ERK1/2 by cyclosporine A was attenuated withN-acetylcysteine treatment and led to the negation of inhibition of HCV RNA replication. We propose that a cellular process that follows ERK1/2 phosphorylation and is specific to oxidative stimulation might lead to down-regulation of HCV RNA replication. Conclusion: Our results demonstrate the involvement of the MEK-ERK1/2 signaling pathway in the anti-HCV status induced by oxidative stress in a broad range of anti-HCV reagents. This intracellular modulation is expected to be a therapeutic target for the suppression of HCV RNA replication.
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