Institute of Molecular Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, St James's Hospital, Dublin, Ireland.
Hepatitis C imposes a significant burden on global healthcare. Chronic infection is associated with progressive inflammation of the liver which typically manifests in cirrhosis, organ failure and cancer. By virtue of elaborate evasion strategies, hepatitis C virus (HCV) succeeds as a persistent human virus. It has an extraordinary capacity to subvert the immune response enabling it to establish chronic infections and associated liver disease. Chemokines are low molecular weight chemotactic peptides that mediate the recruitment of inflammatory cells into tissues and back into the lymphatics and peripheral blood. Thus, they are central to the temporal and spatial distribution of effector and regulatory immune cells. The interactions between chemokines and their cognate receptors help shape the immune response and therefore, have a major influence on the outcome of infection. However, chemokines represent a target for modulation by viruses including the HCV. HCV is known to modulate chemokine expression in vitro and may therefore enable its survival by subverting the immune response in vivo through altered leukocyte chemotaxis resulting in impaired viral clearance and the establishment of chronic low-grade inflammation. In this review, the roles of chemokines in acute and chronic HCV infection are described with a particular emphasis placed on chemokine modulation as a means of immune subversion. We provide an in depth discussion of the part played by chemokines in mediating hepatic fibrosis while addressing the potential applications for these chemoattractants in prognostic medicine.