The narrow range of species permissive to infection by hepatitis C virus (HCV) presents a unique challenge to the development of useful animal models for studying HCV, as well as host immune responses and development of chronic infection and disease. Following earlier studies in chimpanzees, several unique approaches have been pursued to develop useful animal models for research while avoiding the important ethical concerns and costs inherent in research with chimpanzees. Genetically related hepatotropic viruses that infect animals are being used as surrogates for HCV in research studies; chimeras of these surrogate viruses harboring specific regions of the HCV genome are being developed to improve their utility for vaccine testing. Concurrently, genetically humanized mice are being developed and continually advanced using human factors known to be involved in virus entry and replication. Further, xenotransplantation of human hepatocytes into mice allows for the direct study of HCV infection in human liver tissue in a small animal model. The current advances in each of these approaches are discussed in the present review.
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