Autophagy is closely associated with the regulation of hepatitis B virus (HBV) replication. HBV X protein (HBx), a multifunctional regulator in HBV-associated biological processes, has been demonstrated to be crucial for autophagy induction by HBV. However, the molecular mechanisms of autophagy induction by HBx, especially the signaling pathways involved, remain elusive. In the present investigation, we demonstrated that HBx induced autophagosome formation independently of the class I phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway. In contrast, the class III PI3K(VPS34)/beclin-1 pathway was revealed to be critical for HBx-induced autophagosome formation. Further study showed that HBx did not affect the level of VPS34 and beclin-1 expression but inhibited beclin-1/Bcl-2 association, and c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK) signaling was found to be important for this process. Moreover, it was found that HBx treatment led to the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and inhibition of ROS activity abrogated both JNK activation and autophagosome formation. Of importance, ROS-JNK signaling was also revealed to play an important role in HBV-induced autophagosome formation and subsequent HBV replication. These data may provide deeper insight into the mechanisms of autophagy induction by HBx and help in the design of new therapeutic strategies against HBV infection.IMPORTANCE HBx plays a key role in diverse HBV-associated biological processes, including autophagy induction. However, the molecular mechanisms of autophagy induction by HBx, especially the signaling pathways involved, remain elusive. In the present investigation, we found that HBx induced autophagy independently of the class I PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway, while the class III PI3K(VPS34)/beclin-1 pathway was revealed to be crucial for this process. Further data showed that ROS-JNK activation by HBx resulted in the release of beclin-1 from its association with Bcl-2 to form a complex with VPS34, thus enhancing autophagosome formation. Of importance, ROS-JNK signaling was also demonstrated to be critical for HBV replication via regulation of autophagy induction. These data help to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of autophagy induction by HBx/HBV and might be useful for designing novel therapeutic approaches to HBV infection.
Keywords: HBV X protein; autophagy; signaling pathway; viral replication.
Copyright © 2017 American Society for Microbiology.