Hepatitis B virus-induced liver injury and altered expression of carcinogen metabolising enzymes: the role of the HBx protein

Toxicol Lett. 1998 Dec 28;102-103:595-601. doi: 10.1016/s0378-4274(98)00254-9.


Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and aflatoxins are major risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) exhibiting a synergistic interaction in the development of this disease. The molecular mechanisms of this interaction remain to be elucidated but an altered carcinogen metabolism in the presence of hepatitis-induced liver injury is one hypothesis. The availability of biomarkers of aflatoxin exposure and metabolism permits this hypothesis to be examined in human populations whilst animal models, such as HBV transgenic mice permit parallel studies in an experimental setting. The hepatitis B virus X protein (HBx) is suspected to play a role in the hepatocarcinogenic process by virtue of its capacity to transactivate oncogenes and several other cellular genes via cis-acting elements. In previous studies in HBV transgenic mice expressing the HB surface antigen and X genes we observed a marked induction of specific cytochrome P450s (CYP) (Kirby et al., 1994a). In the current study we investigated the status of CYP, glutathione S-transferases (GST) and antioxidant enzymes in mice carrying only the X gene under the control of the alpha-1 antitrypsin regulatory elements (ATX mice). Livers of ATX mice showed no major pathological alterations compared to age-matched non-transgenic control mice. Immunohistochemical staining for CYP1A, 2A5 and GST expression and determination of related enzymatic activities (7-ethoxyresorufin O-deethylation, 7-methoxyresorufin O-deethylation, coumarin 7-hydroxylation and GST activities) revealed no differences between control and ATX mice. In addition, no differences in antioxidant enzymes were observed. Overall, these results support the conclusion that HBx expression alone is insufficient to induce transactivation of CYP and GST genes or to alter the antioxidant system and that the induction in other HBV models is a result of inflammatory injury in the liver, a feature absent in ATX mice. These data are compared to biomarker studies of enzyme activities in aflatoxin-exposed human populations with and without HBV infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / metabolism*
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Glutathione Transferase / metabolism*
  • Hepatitis B / pathology*
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Trans-Activators / physiology*
  • Viral Regulatory and Accessory Proteins


  • Carcinogens
  • Trans-Activators
  • Viral Regulatory and Accessory Proteins
  • hepatitis B virus X protein
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Glutathione Transferase