Hepatitis delta virus (HDV) is the etiologic agent of the most severe form of virus hepatitis in humans. Sharing some structural and functional properties with plant viroids, the HDV RNA contains a single open reading frame coding for the only virus protein, the Delta antigen. A number of unique features, including ribozyme activity, RNA editing, rolling-circle RNA replication, and redirection for a RNA template of host DNA-dependent RNA polymerase II, make this small pathogen an excellent model to study virus-cell interactions and RNA biology. Treatment options for chronic hepatitis Delta are scarce and ineffective. The disease burden is perhaps largely underestimated making the search for new, specific drugs, targets, and treatment strategies an important public health challenge. In this review we address the main features of virus structure, replication, and interaction with the host. Virus pathogenicity and current treatment options are discussed in the light of recent developments.
Keywords: Hepatitis B virus; Hepatitis delta virus; Pathogenesis; RNA replication; Treatment.