The hepatitis B virus (HBV) core protein serves multiple essential functions in the viral life cycle, and antiviral agents that target the core protein are being developed. Capsid assembly modulators (CAMs) are compounds that target core and misdirect capsid assembly, resulting in the suppression of HBV replication and virion production. Besides HBV DNA, circulating HBV RNA has been detected in patient serum and can be associated with the treatment response. Here we studied the effect of HBV CAMs on the production of extracellular HBV RNA using infected HepaRG cells and primary human hepatocytes. Representative compounds from the sulfonamide carboxamide and heteroaryldihydropyrimidine series of CAMs were evaluated and compared to nucleos(t)ide analogs as inhibitors of the viral polymerase. The results showed that CAMs blocked extracellular HBV RNA with efficiencies similar to those with which they blocked pregenomic RNA (pgRNA) encapsidation, HBV DNA replication, and Dane particle production. Nucleos(t)ide analogs inhibited viral replication and virion production but not encapsidation or production of extracellular HBV RNA. Profiling of HBV RNA from both culture supernatants and patient serum showed that extracellular viral RNA consisted of pgRNA and spliced pgRNA variants with an internal deletion(s) but still retained the sequences at both the 5' and 3' ends. Similar variants were detected in the supernatants of infected cells with and without nucleos(t)ide analog treatment. Overall, our data demonstrate that HBV CAMs represent direct antiviral agents with a profile differentiated from that of nucleos(t)ide analogs, including the inhibition of extracellular pgRNA and spliced pgRNA.
Keywords: CHB; HBV RNA; HBV inhibitor; capsid assembly modulator; chronic hepatitis B; pgRNA; spliced RNA.
Copyright © 2017 Lam et al.