Infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a public health problem; it establishes a chronic course in ~85% of infected patients and increases their risk for developing liver cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, and significant extrahepatic manifestations. The mechanisms of HCV persistence remain elusive and are largely related to inefficient clearance of the virus by the host immune system. Dendritic cells (DCs) are the most efficient inducers of immune responses; they are capable of triggering productive immunity and maintaining the state of tolerance to self- and non-self antigens.
During the past decade, multiple research groups have focused on DCs, in hopes of unraveling an HCV-specific DC signature or DC-dependent mechanisms of antiviral immunity which would lead to a successful HCV elimination strategy. This review incorporates the latest update in the current status of knowledge on the role of DCs in anti-HCV immunity as it relates to several challenging questions: (a) the phenotype and function of diverse DC subsets in HCV-infected patients; (b) the characteristics of non-human HCV infection models from the DCs' point of view; (c) how can in vitro systems, ranging from HCV protein- or peptide-exposed DC to HCV protein-expressing DCs, and in vivo systems, ranging from HCV protein-expressing transgenic mice to HCV-infected non-human primates, be employed to dissect the role of DCs in triggering/maintaining a robust antiviral response; and (d) the prospect of DC-based strategy for managing and finding a cure for HCV infection.