• Natural reservoirs for homologs of hepatitis C virus.

      Pfaender, Stephanie; Brown, Richard Jp; Pietschmann, Thomas; Steinmann, Eike; Twincore Centre of Experimental and Clinical Infection Research; a joint venture between the Hannover Medical School and the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, Hannover 30625, Germany. (2014-03)
      Hepatitis C virus is considered a major public health problem, infecting 2%-3% of the human population. Hepatitis C virus infection causes acute and chronic liver disease, including chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. In fact, hepatitis C virus infection is the most frequent indication for liver transplantation and a vaccine is not available. Hepatitis C virus displays a narrow host species tropism, naturally infecting only humans, although chimpanzees are also susceptible to experimental infection. To date, there is no evidence for an animal reservoir of viruses closely related to hepatitis C virus which may have crossed the species barrier to cause disease in humans and resulted in the current pandemic. In fact, due to this restricted host range, a robust immunocompetent small animal model is still lacking, hampering mechanistic analysis of virus pathogenesis, immune control and prophylactic vaccine development. Recently, several studies discovered new viruses related to hepatitis C virus, belonging to the hepaci- and pegivirus genera, in small wild mammals (rodents and bats) and domesticated animals which live in close contact with humans (dogs and horses). Genetic and biological characterization of these newly discovered hepatitis C virus-like viruses infecting different mammals will contribute to our understanding of the origins of hepatitis C virus in humans and enhance our ability to study pathogenesis and immune responses using tractable animal models. In this review article, we start with an introduction on the genetic diversity of hepatitis C virus and then focus on the newly discovered viruses closely related to hepatitis C virus. Finally, we discuss possible theories about the origin of this important viral human pathogen.