Enhancement of hepatitis B virus replication by the regulatory X protein in vitro and in vivo

J Virol. 2007 Mar;81(6):2656-62. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02020-06. Epub 2006 Dec 20.


The 3.2-kb hepatitis B virus (HBV) genome encodes a single regulatory protein termed HBx. While multiple functions have been identified for HBx in cell culture, its role in virus replication remains undefined. In the present study, we combined an HBV plasmid-based replication assay with the hydrodynamic tail vein injection model to investigate the function(s) of HBx in vivo. Using a greater-than-unit-length HBV plasmid DNA construct (payw1.2) and a similar construct with a stop codon at position 7 of the HBx open reading frame (payw1.2*7), we showed that HBV replication in transfected HepG2 cells was reduced 65% in the absence of HBx. These plasmids were next introduced into the livers of outbred ICR mice via hydrodynamic tail vein injection. At the peak of virus replication, at 4 days postinjection, intrahepatic markers of HBV replication were reduced 72% to 83% in mice injected with HBx-deficient payw1.2*7 compared to those measured in mice receiving wild-type payw1.2. A second plasmid encoding HBx was able to restore virus replication from payw1.2*7 to wild-type levels. Finally, viremia was monitored over the course of acute virus replication, and at 4 days postinjection, it was reduced by nearly 2 logs in the absence of HBx. These studies establish that the role for HBx in virus replication previously shown in transfected HepG2 cells is also apparent in the mouse liver within the context of acute hepatitis. Importantly, the function of HBx can now be studied in an in vivo setting that more closely approximates the cellular environment for HBV replication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Outbred Strains
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • DNA Replication*
  • DNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Hepatitis B virus / genetics
  • Hepatitis B virus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Liver / virology
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Plasmids
  • Time Factors
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Trans-Activators / physiology*
  • Transfection
  • Viral Regulatory and Accessory Proteins
  • Viremia / virology
  • Virus Replication*


  • DNA, Viral
  • Trans-Activators
  • Viral Regulatory and Accessory Proteins
  • hepatitis B virus X protein