Hepatitis researchers have long thought that immune cells – sent to attack virus-infected cells in the liver – cause the acute liver injury associated with hepatitis A virus (HAV) and other hepatitis viruses.

Hepatitis A/CDC
Hepatitis A/CDC

Yet, investigators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine discovered that it is an immediate, intrinsic response of the HAV-infected cell that results in liver inflammation. These results were published today in the journal Science.

“The virus evokes a response in the infected cell that activates a pre-programmed cell death pathway,” said Stanley Lemon, MD, one of the study’s authors, professor of medicine, and member of the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases. “In effect, the cell commits suicide, sacrificing itself along with the virus in an effort to save the host. This results in inflammation within the liver that we recognize as hepatitis.”

Hepatitis A virus is a vaccine-preventable form of infectious hepatitis found worldwide. It is transmitted through ingestion of food and water that is contaminated with the feces of an infected person. Frozen strawberries used in drinks at a smoothie chain led to a hepatitis A outbreak this summer in seven states.

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