Vitamin D supplementation was reported to improve the probability of achieving a sustained virological response when combined with antiviral treatment against hepatitis C virus (HCV). Our aim was to determine the in vitro potential of vitamin D to inhibit HCV infectious virus production and explore the mechanism(s) of inhibition. Here we show that vitamin D 3 remarkably inhibits HCV production in Huh7.5 hepatoma cells. These cells express CYP27B1, the gene encoding for the enzyme responsible for the synthesis of the vitamin D hormonally active metabolite, calcitriol. Treatment with vitamin D 3 resulted in calcitriol production and induction of calcitriol target gene CYP24A1, indicating that these cells contain the full machinery for vitamin D metabolism and activity. Notably, treatment with calcitriol resulted in HCV inhibition. Collectively, these findings suggest that vitamin D 3 has an antiviral activity which is mediated by its active metabolite. This antiviral activity involves the induction of the interferon signaling pathway, resulting in expression of interferon-β and the interferon-stimulated gene, MxA. Intriguingly, HCV infection increased calcitriol production by inhibiting CYP24A1 induction, the enzyme responsible for the first step in calcitriol catabolism. Importantly, the combination of vitamin D 3 or calcitriol and interferon-α synergistically inhibited viral production. Conclusion: This study demonstrates for the first time a direct antiviral effect of vitamin D in an in vitro infectious virus production system. It proposes an interplay between the hepatic vitamin D endocrine system and HCV, suggesting that vitamin D has a role as a natural antiviral mediator. Importantly, our study implies that vitamin D might have an interferon-sparing effect, thus improving antiviral treatment of HCV-infected patients.
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