PLoS pathogens

Supporting Role for GTPase Rab27a in Hepatitis C Virus RNA Replication through a Novel miR-122-Mediated Effect.

PMID 26305877


The small GTPase Rab27a has been shown to control membrane trafficking and microvesicle transport pathways, in particular the secretion of exosomes. In the liver, high expression of Rab27a correlates with the development of hepatocellular carcinoma. We discovered that low abundance of Rab27a resulted in decreased hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA and protein abundances in virus-infected cells. Curiously, both cell-associated and extracellular virus yield decreased in Rab27a depleted cells, suggesting that reduced exosome secretion did not cause the observed effect. Instead, Rab27a enhanced viral RNA replication by a mechanism that involves the liver-specific microRNA miR-122. Rab27a surrounded lipid droplets and was enriched in membrane fractions that harbor viral replication proteins, suggesting a supporting role for Rab27a in viral gene expression. Curiously, Rab27a depletion decreased the abundance of miR-122, whereas overexpression of miR-122 in Rab27a-depleted cells rescued HCV RNA abundance. Because intracellular HCV RNA abundance is enhanced by the binding of two miR-122 molecules to the extreme 5' end of the HCV RNA genome, the diminished amounts of miR-122 in Rab27a-depleted cells could have caused destabilization of HCV RNA. However, the abundance of HCV RNA carrying mutations on both miR-122-binding sites and whose stability was supported by ectopically expressed miR-122 mimetics with compensatory mutations also decreased in Rab27a-depleted cells. This result indicates that the effect of Rab27a depletion on HCV RNA abundance does not depend on the formation of 5' terminal HCV/miR-122 RNA complexes, but that miR-122 has a Rab27a-dependent function in the HCV lifecycle, likely the downregulation of a cellular inhibitor of HCV gene expression. These findings suggest that the absence of miR-122 results in a vulnerability not only to exoribonucleases that attack the viral genome, but also to upregulation of one more cellular factor that inhibit viral gene expression.