Hepatocytes traffic and export hepatitis B virus basolaterally by polarity-dependent mechanisms

J Virol. 2011 Dec;85(23):12474-81. doi: 10.1128/JVI.05344-11. Epub 2011 Sep 21.


Viruses commonly utilize the cellular trafficking machinery of polarized cells to effect viral export. Hepatocytes are polarized in vivo, but most in vitro hepatocyte models are either nonpolarized or have morphology unsuitable for the study of viral export. Here, we investigate the mechanisms of trafficking and export for the hepadnaviruses hepatitis B virus (HBV) and duck hepatitis B virus (DHBV) in polarized hepatocyte-derived cell lines and primary duck hepatocytes. DHBV export, but not replication, was dependent on the development of hepatocyte polarity, with export significantly abrogated over time as primary hepatocytes lost polarity. Using Transwell cultures of polarized N6 cells and adenovirus-based transduction, we observed that export of both HBV and DHBV was vectorially regulated and predominantly basolateral. Monitoring of polarized N6 cells and nonpolarized C11 cells during persistent, long-term DHBV infection demonstrated that newly synthesized sphingolipid and virus displayed significant colocalization and fluorescence resonance energy transfer, implying cotransportation from the Golgi complex to the plasma membrane. Notably, 15% of virus was released apically from polarized cells, corresponding to secretion into the bile duct in vivo, also in association with sphingolipids. We conclude that DHBV and, probably, HBV are reliant upon hepatocyte polarity to be efficiently exported and this export is in association with sphingolipid structures, possibly lipid rafts. This study provides novel insights regarding the mechanisms of hepadnavirus trafficking in hepatocytes, with potential relevance to pathogenesis and immune tolerance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Southern
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Polarity*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Ducks
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Genetic Vectors
  • Hepadnaviridae Infections / pathology
  • Hepadnaviridae Infections / virology*
  • Hepatitis B Virus, Duck / pathogenicity*
  • Hepatitis B virus / pathogenicity*
  • Hepatocytes / pathology
  • Hepatocytes / virology*
  • Liver / cytology
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver / virology*
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sphingomyelins / metabolism
  • Transferrin / metabolism
  • Virus Replication


  • DNA, Viral
  • Sphingomyelins
  • Transferrin