Human hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a major risk factor of human hepatocellular carcinoma. Both in vivo and in vitro studies have shown that HBV X protein (HBx) can bind to the p53 tumor-suppressor protein and interfere with the role that p53 plays in the cellular response to DNA damage. Our previous work has shown that HBx protein inhibits p53 sequence-specific transcriptional activation, p53-mediated apoptosis and p53 binding to the TFIIH transcription-nucleotide excision repair (NER) factors, including XPB and XPD. To investigate whether HBx interferes with the NER pathway, we utilized cell-proliferation and colony-formation assays to determine if cells expressing HBx are more sensitive to UVC-induced DNA damage. NER was also measured by a plasmid host cell re-activation assay using a vector containing a luciferase reporter gene. UV-irradiated plasmids were transfected into a human RKO colon carcinoma cell line that contains wild-type (wt) p53 as well as its derivatives, either mutant p53-143ala (RKO-143ala) or human papillomavirus E6 (RKO-E6, a wt p53 protein that is rapidly degraded and non-functional). We found that cells expressing HBx are more sensitive to UVC-induced killing. Moreover, expression of HBx resulted in a reduction of NER efficiency in RKO cells to 52 +/- 2% (compared with control), RKO-143a1a cells to 46 +/- 3% and RKO-E6 cells to 60 +/- 3%. Similar results were also obtained with a HepG2 hepatoblastoma cell line carrying wt p53. In addition, we found that HBx bound directly to either XPB or XPD DNA helicase in vitro. Thus, our data indicate that HBx may interfere with the NER pathway through both p53-dependent and p53-independent mechanisms. Because HBx binds to TFIIH-associated proteins, we propose that HBx may interfere with the NER pathway also through binding to and altering the activities of helicases necessary for NER and, thereby, increase the mutation rate induced by chemical carcinogens, such as aflatoxin B1, during human liver carcinogenesis.