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Hepatitis B virus e antigen production is dependent upon covalently closed circular (ccc) DNA in HepAD38 cell cultures and may serve as a cccDNA surrogate in antiviral screening assays.

16780964

Antiviral Res.. 2006 Nov 72 (2).

Currently available antiviral nucleoside analogs for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections profoundly reduce virus load, but rarely cure the virus infection. This is due, at least in part, to their failure to eliminate viral covalently closed circular (ccc) DNA from the nuclei of infected hepatocytes. To screen compound libraries for antiviral drugs targeting cccDNA, we set out to develop a cell-based assay suitable for high throughput screening. Since cccDNA is time-consuming to assay, it was desirable to use a viral gene product that could serve as a reporter for intracellular cccDNA level. We predicted that the secretion of HBV e antigen (HBeAg) by HepAD38 cells, a tetracycline inducible HBV expression cell line, would be cccDNA-dependent. This is because a large portion of pre-core mRNA leader sequence in the 5' terminus of integrated viral genome was deleted, preventing HBeAg expression from transgene, but could be restored from the 3' terminal redundancy of pre-genomic RNA during viral DNA replication and subsequent cccDNA formation. Our experimental results showed that following induction, HepAD38 produced and accumulated cccDNA, which became detectable between 7 and 8 days. HBeAg synthesis and secretion into culture fluid were dependent upon and proportional to the level of cccDNA detected. Therefore, the secretion of HBeAg by HepAD38 cells could potentially serve as a convenient reporter for the high throughput screening of novel antiviral drugs targeting HBV cccDNA.

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