Department of Microbiology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY, United States of America.
Program in Immunogenomics, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, United States of America.
Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CRCHUM), Montréal, QC, Canada.
Departement de microbiologie, infectiologie et immunologie, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada.
Département de médecine familiale et de médecine d'urgence, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada.
Laboratory of Virology and Infectious Disease, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, United States of America.
Center for the Study of Hepatitis C, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, United States of America.
Département de médecine, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada.
Most individuals exposed to hepatitis C virus (HCV) become persistently infected while a minority spontaneously eliminate the virus. Although early immune events influence infection outcome, the cellular composition, molecular effectors, and timeframe of the host response active shortly after viral exposure remain incompletely understood. Employing specimens collected from people who inject drugs (PWID) with high risk of HCV exposure, we utilized RNA-Seq and blood transcriptome module (BTM) analysis to characterize immune function in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) before, during, and after acute HCV infection resulting in spontaneous resolution. Our results provide a detailed description of innate immune programs active in peripheral blood during acute HCV infection, which include prominent type I interferon and inflammatory signatures. Innate immune gene expression rapidly returns to pre-infection levels upon viral clearance. Comparative analyses using peripheral blood gene expression profiles from other viral and vaccine studies demonstrate similarities in the immune responses to acute HCV and flaviviruses. Of note, both acute dengue virus (DENV) infection and acute HCV infection elicit similar innate antiviral signatures. However, while transient in DENV infection, this signature was sustained for many weeks in the response to HCV. These results represent the first longitudinal transcriptomic characterization of human immune function in PBMC during acute HCV infection and identify several dynamically regulated features of the complex response to natural HCV exposure.