Conditional gene expression in hepatitis C virus transgenic mice without induction of severe liver injury using a non-inflammatory Cre-expressing adenovirus.
ABSTRACT We previously established inducible-hepatitis C virus (HCV) transgenic mice, which expressed the HCV gene (nucleotides 294-3435) encoding the core, E1, E2, and NS2 proteins. The expression of these proteins is regulated by the Cre/loxP system and an adenovirus vector (AdV) that expresses Cre DNA recombinase (Cre) controlled by the CAG promoter (AxCANCre). Recent studies have demonstrated that AxCANCre injection alone results in severe liver injury by induction of the adenovirus protein IX (Ad-pIX) gene. As a result, HCV protein expression in transgenic mice livers was only short-term. In contrast, the EF1α promoter-bearing AdV induces slight Ad-pIX gene expression without inducing severe liver injury. Therefore, in the present study, we developed a Cre-expressing AdV that bears the EF1α promoter (AxEFCre) to express HCV protein in the transgenic mouse livers. In the non-transgenic mice injected with AxCANCre, alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels were elevated and severe liver inflammation occurred; this was not observed in AxEFCre-injected mice. In contrast, AxEFCre-injected HCV transgenic mice showed milder liver inflammatory responses that were clearly due to HCV protein expression. Moreover, the AxEFCre injection enabled the transgenic mice to persistently express HCV protein. These results indicate that use of AxEFCre efficiently promotes Cre-mediated DNA recombination in vivo without a severe hepatitis response to AdV. This inducible-HCV transgenic mouse model using AxEFCre should be useful for research on HCV pathogenesis.