Hepatocellular necrosis during hepatitis B virus infection is hypothesized to result from host immune responses against either hepatitis B surface antigen or hepatitis B core antigen expressed on the surface membrane of infected hepatocytes. To study the capacity of hepatitis B deoxyribonucleic acid to induce membrane expression of either hepatitis B surface antigen or hepatitis B core antigen in vitro, we assessed transfected rat fibroblast cell lines by indirect immunofluorescence. Rat fibroblasts were transfected with plasmid vectors containing the natural promoters, native enhancer, and uninterrupted sequences of either the Pre S/S gene or core gene. Resulting cell lines produced hepatitis B surface antigen and hepatitis B core antigen/hepatitis B e antigen, respectively. Immunofluorescence microscopy or flow cytometry showed that hepatitis B surface antigen and hepatitis B core antigen were expressed in a granular pattern in the surface membrane of transfected cells. We conclude that surface membrane expression of both hepatitis B surface antigen and hepatitis B core antigen is an intrinsic consequence of expression of either the Pre S/S or core gene.