Silencing Retinoid X Receptor Alpha Expression Enhances Early-Stage Hepatitis B Virus Infection In Cell Cultures

J Virol. 2018 Mar 28;92(8):e01771-17. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01771-17. Print 2018 Apr 15.


Multiple steps of the life cycle of hepatitis B virus (HBV) are known to be coupled to hepatic metabolism. However, the details of involvement of the hepatic metabolic milieu in HBV infection remain incompletely understood. Hepatic lipid metabolism is controlled by a complicated transcription factor network centered on retinoid X receptor alpha (RXRα). Here, we report that RXRα negatively regulates HBV infection at an early stage in cell cultures. The RXR-specific agonist bexarotene inhibits HBV in HepG2 cells expressing the sodium taurocholate cotransporting polypeptide (NTCP) (HepG2-NTCP), HepaRG cells, and primary Tupaia hepatocytes (PTHs); reducing RXRα expression significantly enhanced HBV infection in the cells. Transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) analysis of HepG2-NTCP cells with a disrupted RXRα gene revealed that reduced gene expression in arachidonic acid (AA)/eicosanoid biosynthesis pathways, including the AA synthases phospholipase A2 group IIA (PLA2G2A), is associated with increased HBV infection. Moreover, exogenous treatment of AA inhibits HBV infection in HepG2-NTCP cells. These data demonstrate that RXRα is an important cellular factor in modulating HBV infection and implicate the participation of AA/eicosanoid biosynthesis pathways in the regulation of HBV infection.IMPORTANCE Understanding how HBV infection is connected with hepatic lipid metabolism may provide new insights into virus infection and its pathogenesis. By a series of genetic studies in combination with transcriptome analysis and pharmacological assays, we here investigated the role of cellular retinoid X receptor alpha (RXRα), a crucial transcription factor for controlling hepatic lipid metabolism, in de novo HBV infection in cell cultures. We found that silencing of RXRα resulted in elevated HBV covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) formation and viral antigen production, while activation of RXRα reduced HBV infection efficiency. Our results also showed that silencing phospholipase A2 group IIA (PLA2G2A), a key enzyme of arachidonic acid (AA) synthases, enhanced HBV infection efficiency in HepG2-NTCP cells and that exogenous AA treatment reduced de novo HBV infection in the cells. These findings unveil RXRα as an important cellular factor in modulating HBV infection and may point to a new strategy for host-targeted therapies against HBV.

Keywords: HBV; NTCP; RXRα; arachidonic acid; inhibition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Hepatitis B / genetics
  • Hepatitis B / metabolism*
  • Hepatitis B virus / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Retinoid X Receptor alpha / biosynthesis*
  • Tupaia


  • Retinoid X Receptor alpha