The genome of hepatitis B virus (HBV) consists of four open reading frames, encoding the envelope proteins (Pre-S/S), the core proteins (Pre-C/C), the polymerase (P) and the transactivating X protein (X). In the sera of HBV-infected patients, hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) particles without the viral genome can outnumber virions by more than 1000-fold. To analyse the interactions between HBsAg and host cells, global gene-expression profiles of a small HBsAg (SHBs)-secreting stable cell line (HepG2-S-G2) and its counterpart control cell line (HepG2-Neo-F4) were compared. Marked upregulation of lymphoid enhancer-binding factor 1 (LEF-1), a transcription factor in the Wnt pathway, was found in SHBs-expressing cells and was confirmed by interference experiments with small interfering RNA. However, compared with the control cells, HepG2-S-G2 did not show higher proliferative competence in culture or increased tumorigenesis in nude mice. A possible mechanism to explain the discrepancy between the upregulation of LEF-1 and the lack of increased tumorigenesis is SHBs expression resulting in altered expression and distribution of LEF-1 protein in cell compartments and upregulation of LEF-1 isoforms that could suppress, rather than enhance, the Wnt pathway.