Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is an important risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The hepatitis B virus X protein (HBx), a multifunctional regulatory protein encoded by HBV, is known to be involved in stimulation of viral replication by modulating cell cycle status. HBx is required for maximal virus replication in plasmid-based replication assays in immortalized human liver HepG2 cells and in primary rat hepatocytes. Moreover, the C-terminal region of HBx is important for HBV replication in HepG2 cells. However, in normal hepatocytes, the region of HBx that is responsible for its effect on cell cycle regulation and HBV replication is unclear. We have demonstrated that HBx is similarly required for maximal HBV replication in primary mouse hepatocytes and that the C-terminus of HBx is essential for its ability to stimulate HBV replication by inducing quiescent hepatocytes to exit G0 phase of the cell cycle but stall in G1 phase. Our studies establish that primary mouse hepatocytes support HBx-dependent HBV replication, and provide further evidence for the effect of the C-terminal region of HBx on HBV infection and replication.
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