Epigenetic modification induced by hepatitis B virus X protein via interaction with de novo DNA methyltransferase DNMT3A

J Hepatol. 2009 Feb;50(2):377-87. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2008.10.019. Epub 2008 Nov 28.


Background/aims: The hepatitis B virus X protein (HBx) has been implicated as a potential trigger of the epigenetic deregulation of some genes, but the underlying mechanisms remain unknown. The aim of this study was to identify underlying mechanisms involved in HBx-mediated epigenetic modification.

Methods: Interactions between HBx and DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) or histone deacetylase-1 (HDAC1) were assessed by co-immunoprecipitation. DNA methylation of gene promoters was detected by bisulfite sequencing, and HBx-mediated protein binding to gene regulatory elements was evaluated by chromatin immunoprecipitation. Target gene transcriptional activity was measured by real-time polymerase chain reaction.

Results: HBx can interact directly with DNMT3A and HDAC1. HBx recruited DNMT3A to the regulatory promoters of interleukin-4 receptor and metallothionein-1F and subsequently silenced their transcription via de novo DNA methylation. By contrast, the transcription of CDH6 and IGFBP3 was triggered by HBx through the deprivation of DNMT3A from their promoters. Transcriptional levels of target genes in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) specimens were strongly correlated with the occurrence of HBx.

Conclusions: The interaction of HBx and DNMT3A facilitates cellular epigenetic modification (via regional hypermethylation or hypomethylation) at distinct genomic loci, providing an alternative mechanism within HBx-mediated transcriptional regulation, and a profound understanding of hepatitis and HCC pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / etiology
  • Cell Line
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / physiology*
  • DNA Methylation
  • DNA Methyltransferase 3A
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Hepatitis B / complications
  • Histone Deacetylase 1
  • Histone Deacetylases / physiology
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / etiology
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Trans-Activators / physiology*
  • Viral Regulatory and Accessory Proteins


  • DNMT3A protein, human
  • Trans-Activators
  • Viral Regulatory and Accessory Proteins
  • hepatitis B virus X protein
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • DNA Methyltransferase 3A
  • HDAC1 protein, human
  • Histone Deacetylase 1
  • Histone Deacetylases