Liver Hepatitis C Biology

Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that invades cells in the liver. Several strains of the hepatitis C virus mutate easily, making this condition difficult to prevent and treat. The hepatitis C virus can persist in the body and eventually lead to liver damage that severely impacts liver function. Learn about hepatitis C, its biology, and the possibility of a hepatitis C vaccine.

What is a Virus?

To understand hepatitis C and its biology, you first need to know how viruses work. A virus is a microorganism that invades the cells of a living host. Viruses are made up of DNA or RNA surrounded by a protective coating, which shelters the genetic material and helps the virus invade its host. In order to survive and reproduce, the virus takes over host cells, which then produce more viruses, rather than serve their intended functions.

Hepatitis C Biology: Chronic HCV

When the hepatitis C virus infects the body, the immune system produces antibodies, which help rid the virus to prevent invasion of healthy cells. Because the hepatitis C virus stores its genetic information in RNA, it is more susceptible to mutation when replicated. The immune system may begin to build immunity to the original virus, but infection can continue if a mutated form of the virus develops.

This frequent mutation is one of the reasons researchers have been unable to develop a hepatitis C vaccine.

Hepatitis C Virus Genotypes

The hepatitis C virus occurs in a number of different forms. The World Health Organization (2010) reports 11 genotypes and 50 subtypes of the hepatitis C virus exist, with types 1a and 1b responsible for the greatest number of infections. The genotypes and subtypes vary in geographic distribution, with certain types more common in different parts of the world. Little evidence suggests that genotype has a significant effect on severity of symptoms or complications, although certain genotypes appear to be more responsive to particular treatments than others.

How Does the Hepatitis C Virus Affect the Body?

The hepatitis C virus reproduces in liver cells, or “hepatocytes.” The chronic inflammation associated with long-term hepatitis C infection can lead to scar tissue formation, called cirrhosis, which impairs the liver’s ability to function and reproduce healthy cells. Liver damage caused by hepatitis C limits the liver’s ability to rid the body of waste and regulate energy storage and metabolism. Cirrhosis can eventually lead to hepatocelluar carcinoma, or liver cancer.

Resources

C. Everett Koop Institute. (2010). Consequences of liver disease. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from http://www.epidemic.org/theFacts/theLiver/consequencesOfLiverDisease/.

Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Hepatitis C. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/
hepatology/hepatitis-C/#cesec2.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Bacterial infection vs. viral infection: What’s the difference? Retrieved September 28, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/infectious-disease/AN00652.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2006). Cirrhosis. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/cirrhosis/.

World Health Organization. (2010). The hepatitis C virus. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from http://www.who.int/csr/disease/hepatitis/whocdscsrlyo2003/en/index2.html.