2016 Volume 39 Issue 5 Pages 839-848
It is well known that occludin (OCLN) is involved in hepatitis C virus (HCV) entry into hepatocytes, but there has been no conclusive evidence that OCLN is essential for HCV infection. In this study, we first established an OCLN-knockout cell line derived from human hepatic Huh7.5.1-8 cells using the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated protein 9 system, in which two independent targeting plasmids expressing single-guide RNAs were used. One established cell clone, named OKH-4, had the OCLN gene truncated in the N-terminal region, and a complete defect of the OCLN protein was shown using immunoblot analysis. Infection of OKH-4 cells with various genotypes of HCV was abolished, and exogenous expression of the OCLN protein in OKH-4 cells completely reversed permissiveness to HCV infection. In addition, using a co-culture system of HCV-infected Huh7.5.1-8 cells with OKH-4 cells, we showed that OCLN is also critical for cell-to-cell HCV transmission. Thus, we concluded that OCLN is essential for HCV infection of human hepatic cells. Further experiments using HCV genomic RNA-transfected OKH-4 cells or HCV subgenomic replicon-harboring OKH-4 cells suggested that OCLN is mainly involved in the entry step of the HCV life cycle. It was also demonstrated that the second extracellular loop of OCLN, especially the two cysteine residues, is critical for HCV infection of hepatic cells. OKH-4 cells may be a useful tool for understanding not only the entire mechanism of HCV entry, but also the biological functions of OCLN.