Identification of an overabundant cholesterol precursor in hepatitis B virus replicating cells by untargeted lipid metabolite profiling

J Am Chem Soc. 2009 Apr 15;131(14):5030-1. doi: 10.1021/ja809949r.


Viruses rely upon host lipid metabolic pathways for successful replication, and there is increasing interest in these pathways as novel therapeutic targets for antiviral drug discovery. Despite this, relatively little is known about the impact of viral infection on cellular lipid metabolism, and the specific lipid metabolites utilized by viruses have not yet been examined. We have applied liquid chromatography-mass spectroscopy (LC-MS) based untargeted metabolite profiling to identify lipid metabolites whose steady-state abundance is significantly altered by replication of hepatitis B virus (HBV), a major human pathogen. Untargeted metabolite profiling indicated that although major lipid classes were unaffected by HBV, an ion of 367 m/z was overabundant in HBV+ cells by 18-fold. As shown by ion fragmentation mass spectrometry and coinjection with standard, the identity of this ion is 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC), an immediate dehydrogenated precursor to cholesterol. While cholesterol has previously been demonstrated to be essential in the replication of many viruses, this is the first to show that viral replication is associated with the selective accumulation of 7-DHC. Most virological studies to date have relied upon methods that deplete all sterols and preclude the observation of any selectivity in sterol utilization by viral pathogens. Our study suggests that HBV may selectively utilize 7-DHC versus other sterols and prompts experiments investigating the functional significance of this enrichment and the elucidation of the mechanism by which it is achieved. The results also highlight the value of untargeted metabolite profiling as a method for identifying critical metabolites for viral infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chromatography, Liquid / methods*
  • Dehydrocholesterols / analysis*
  • Dehydrocholesterols / metabolism
  • Hepatitis B / metabolism*
  • Hepatitis B / virology
  • Hepatitis B virus / growth & development*
  • Hepatitis B virus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Metabolomics / methods*


  • Dehydrocholesterols
  • 7-dehydrocholesterol