Hepatitis B virus polymerase disrupts K63-linked ubiquitination of STING to block innate cytosolic DNA-sensing pathways

J Virol. 2015 Feb;89(4):2287-300. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02760-14. Epub 2014 Dec 10.


The cellular innate immune system recognizing pathogen infection is essential for host defense against viruses. In parallel, viruses have developed a variety of strategies to evade the innate immunity. The hepatitis B virus (HBV), a DNA virus that causes chronic hepatitis, has been shown to inhibit RNA helicase RIG-I-mediated interferon (IFN) induction. However, it is still unknown whether HBV could affect the host DNA-sensing pathways. Here we report that in transiently HBV-transfected Huh7 cells, the stably HBV-producing cell line HepAD38, and HBV-infected HepaRG cells and primary human hepatocytes, HBV markedly interfered with IFN-β induction and antiviral immunity mediated by the stimulator of interferon genes (STING), which has been identified as a central factor in foreign DNA recognition and antiviral innate immunity. Screening analysis demonstrated that the viral polymerase (Pol), but not other HBV-encoded proteins, was able to inhibit STING-stimulated interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3) activation and IFN-β induction. Moreover, the reverse transcriptase (RT) and the RNase H (RH) domains of Pol were identified to be responsible for the inhibitory effects. Furthermore, Pol was shown to physically associate with STING and dramatically decrease the K63-linked polyubiquitination of STING via its RT domain without altering the expression level of STING. Taken together, these observations suggest that besides its inherent catalytic function, Pol has a role in suppression of IFN-β production by direct interaction with STING and subsequent disruption of its K63-linked ubiquitination, providing a new mechanism for HBV to counteract the innate DNA-sensing pathways.

Importance: Although whether and how HBV infection induces the innate immune responses are still controversial, it has become increasingly clear that HBV has developed strategies to counteract the pattern recognition receptor-mediated signaling pathways. Previous studies have shown that type I IFN induction activated by the host RNA sensors could be inhibited by HBV. However, it remains unknown whether HBV as a DNA virus utilizes evasion mechanisms against foreign DNA-elicited antiviral signaling. In recent years, the cytosolic DNA sensor and key adaptor STING has been demonstrated to be essential in multiple foreign DNA-elicited innate immune signalings. Here, for the first time, we report STING as a new target of HBV to antagonize IFN induction and identify the viral polymerase responsible for the inhibitory effect, thus providing an additional molecular mechanism by which HBV evades the innate immunity; this implies that in addition to its inherent catalytic function, HBV polymerase is a multifunctional immunomodulatory protein.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • DNA, Viral / immunology*
  • Hepatitis B virus / immunology*
  • Hepatitis B virus / physiology*
  • Hepatocytes / immunology
  • Hepatocytes / virology
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Immune Evasion*
  • Interferon-beta / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Membrane Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Interaction Mapping
  • Ubiquitination


  • DNA, Viral
  • Membrane Proteins
  • STING1 protein, human
  • Interferon-beta