We previously reported that Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9)-CpG oligonucleotides could inhibit the establishment of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections in hepatocytes. Our aim was to uncover the underlying mechanisms of this inhibition. HepaRG cells, RPMI-B lymphoblastoma cells, and primary plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) exposed to HBV and TLR9 ligands/agonists in various configurations were used. We observed an inhibition of HBV infection upon TLR9 stimulations only when agonist was applied during inoculation. This inhibition was independent of interleukin-6 (IL-6)/interferon-inducible protein 10 (IP-10) production as well as of TLR9 expression in hepatocytes. We further demonstrated an entry inhibition mechanism by showing a noncovalent binding of TLR9 agonist to HBV particles. Besides inhibiting HBV entry into hepatocytes, this biophysical interaction between HBV virions and TLR9 agonist was responsible for a reduction of alpha interferon (IFN-α) expression by pDCs. Interestingly, subviral particles composed of only HBsAg were able to genuinely inhibit the TLR9 pathway, without titrating TLR9 ligands. To conclude, our data suggest that synthetic TLR9-CpG oligonucleotides can strongly inhibit HBV entry by "coating" HBV virions and thereby preventing their interaction with cellular receptor. This titration effect of TLR9 agonist is also artifactually responsible for the inhibition of TLR9 engagement in pDCs, whereas a genuine inhibition of this innate pathway was confirmed with HBsAg subviral particles.
Keywords: Toll-like receptor 9; Toll-like receptors; agonist; entry inhibition; hepatitis B virus; hepatocytes; plasmacytoid cells; plasmacytoid dendritic cells.
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