Hepatitis D virus (HDV) super-infection of Hepatitis B virus (HBV)-infected patients is the most aggressive form of viral hepatitis. HDV infection is not susceptible to direct anti-HBV drugs, and only suboptimal antiviral responses are obtained with interferon (IFN)-alpha-based therapy. To get insights on HDV replication and interplay with HBV in physiologically relevant hepatocytes, differentiated HepaRG (dHepaRG) cells, previously infected or not with HBV, were infected with HDV, and viral markers were extensively analyzed. Innate and IFN responses to HDV were monitored by measuring pro-inflammatory and interferon-stimulated gene (ISG) expression. Both mono- and super-infected dHepaRG cells supported a strong HDV intracellular replication, which was accompanied by a strong secretion of infectious HDV virions only in the super-infection setting and despite the low number of co-infected cells. Upon HDV super-infection, HBV replication markers including HBeAg, total HBV-DNA and pregenomic RNA were significantly decreased, confirming the interference of HDV on HBV. Yet, no decrease of circular covalently closed HBV DNA (cccDNA) and HBsAg levels was evidenced. At the peak of HDV-RNA accumulation and onset of interference on HBV replication, a strong type-I IFN response was observed, with interferon stimulated genes, RSAD2 (Viperin) and IFI78 (MxA) being highly induced. We established a cellular model to characterize in more detail the direct interference of HBV and HDV, and the indirect interplay between the two viruses via innate immune responses. This model will be instrumental to assess molecular and immunological mechanisms of this viral interference.
Keywords: Hepatitis B virus; Hepatitis D virus; IFN response; Interferon stimulated genes; Viral interference.
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