Dengue virus (DENV) infection requires cholesterol as a proviral factor, although statin treatment did not show antiviral efficacy in patients with dengue. Here, we show that DENV infection manipulated cholesterol metabolism in cells residing in low-oxygen microenvironments (hypoxia) such as in the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. DENV infection induced expression of proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9), which reduces low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR) recycling and hence cholesterol uptake. We found that, whereas LDLR uptake would have distributed cholesterol throughout the various cell compartments, de novo cholesterol synthesis enriched this lipid in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). With cholesterol enrichment in the ER, ER-resident STING and type I IFN (IFN) activation was repressed during DENV infection. Our in vitro findings were further supported by the detection of elevated plasma PCSK9 levels in patients with dengue with high viremia and increased severity of plasma leakage. Our findings therefore suggest that PCSK9 plays a hitherto unrecognized role in dengue pathogenesis and that PCSK9 inhibitors could be a suitable host-directed treatment for patients with dengue.
Esther Shuyi Gan, Hwee Cheng Tan, Duyen Huynh Thi Le, Trieu Trung Huynh, Bridget Wills, Nabil G. Seidah, Eng Eong Ooi, Sophie Yacoub