Toll-like receptor 7 agonist GS-9620 induces prolonged inhibition of HBV via a type I interferon-dependent mechanism

J Hepatol. 2018 May;68(5):922-931. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2017.12.007. Epub 2017 Dec 13.


Background & aims: GS-9620, an oral agonist of toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7), is in clinical development for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B (CHB). GS-9620 was previously shown to induce prolonged suppression of serum viral DNA and antigens in the woodchuck and chimpanzee models of CHB. Herein, we investigated the molecular mechanisms that contribute to the antiviral response to GS-9620 using in vitro models of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection.

Methods: Cryopreserved primary human hepatocytes (PHH) and differentiated HepaRG (dHepaRG) cells were infected with HBV and treated with GS-9620, conditioned media from human peripheral blood mononuclear cells treated with GS-9620 (GS-9620 conditioned media [GS-9620-CM]), or other innate immune stimuli. The antiviral and transcriptional response to these agents was determined.

Results: GS-9620 had no antiviral activity in HBV-infected PHH, consistent with low level TLR7 mRNA expression in human hepatocytes. In contrast, GS-9620-CM induced prolonged reduction of HBV DNA, RNA, and antigen levels in PHH and dHepaRG cells via a type I interferon (IFN)-dependent mechanism. GS-9620-CM did not reduce covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) levels in either cell type. Transcriptional profiling demonstrated that GS-9620-CM strongly induced various HBV restriction factors - although not APOBEC3A or the Smc5/6 complex - and indicated that established HBV infection does not modulate innate immune sensing or signaling in cryopreserved PHH. GS-9620-CM also induced expression of immunoproteasome subunits and enhanced presentation of an immunodominant viral peptide in HBV-infected PHH.

Conclusions: Type I IFN induced by GS-9620 durably suppressed HBV in human hepatocytes without reducing cccDNA levels. Moreover, HBV antigen presentation was enhanced, suggesting additional components of the TLR7-induced immune response played a role in the antiviral response to GS-9620 in animal models of CHB.

Lay summary: GS-9620 is a drug currently being tested in clinical trials for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. GS-9620 has previously been shown to suppress HBV in various animal models, but the underlying antiviral mechanisms were not completely understood. In this study, we determined that GS-9620 does not directly activate antiviral pathways in human liver cells, but can induce prolonged suppression of HBV via induction of an antiviral cytokine called interferon. However, interferon did not destroy the HBV genome, suggesting that other parts of the immune response (e.g. activation of immune cells that kill infected cells) also play an important role in the antiviral response to GS-9620.

Keywords: APOBEC; GS-9620; Hepatitis B virus; Immunoproteasome; Interferon-alpha; Interferon-stimulated gene; MHC; Smc5/6; TLR7; cccDNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigen Presentation
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • DNA, Circular / genetics
  • DNA, Circular / metabolism
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • DNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Hepatitis B Antigens / metabolism
  • Hepatitis B virus / drug effects*
  • Hepatitis B virus / genetics
  • Hepatitis B virus / immunology
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic / drug therapy
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic / immunology
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic / virology
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Hepatocytes / immunology
  • Hepatocytes / virology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Interferon Type I / immunology*
  • Pteridines / pharmacology*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Toll-Like Receptor 7 / agonists*
  • Toll-Like Receptor 7 / genetics


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Cytokines
  • DNA, Circular
  • DNA, Viral
  • Hepatitis B Antigens
  • Interferon Type I
  • Pteridines
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Viral
  • TLR7 protein, human
  • Toll-Like Receptor 7
  • vesatolimod