We describe the identification and functional analysis of an evolutionary distinct new avian hepadnavirus. Infection of snow geese (Anser caerulescens) with a duck hepatitis B virus (DHBV)-related virus, designated SGHBV, was demonstrated by detection of envelope proteins in sera with anti-DHBV preS and S antibodies. Comparative sequence analysis of the PCR-amplified SGHBV genomes revealed unique SGHBV sequence features compared with other avian hepadnaviruses. Unlike DHBV, SGHBV shows an open reading frame in an analogous position to orthohepadnavirus X genes. Four of five cloned genomes were competent in replication, gene expression, and virus particle secretion in chicken hepatoma cells. Primary duck hepatocytes were permissive for infection with SGHBV, suggesting a similar or identical host range. SGHBV was found to secrete a significant fraction of virion-like particles containing single-stranded viral DNA. This was observed both in cell culture medium of SGHBV DNA-transfected LMH cells and in viremic sera of several birds, suggesting that it is a stable trait of SGHBV. Taken together, SGHBV has several unique features that expand the knowledge of the functional and evolutionary diversity of hepadnaviruses and offers new experimental opportunities for studies on the life cycle of hepadnaviruses.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.