Hepatitis B virus (HBV), which can cause chronic hepatitis B, has sophisticated machinery to establish persistent infection. Here, we report a novel mechanism whereby HBV changed miRNA packaging into extracellular vesicles (EVs) to facilitate replication. Disruption of the miRNA machinery in hepatocytes enhanced HBV replication, indicating an intrinsic miRNA-mediated antiviral state. Interference with EV release only decreased HBV replication if there was normal miRNA biogenesis, suggesting a possible link between HBV replication and EV-associated miRNAs. Microarray and qPCR analyses revealed that HBV replication changed miRNA expression in EVs. EV incubation, transfection of miRNA mimics and inhibitors, and functional pathway and network analyses showed that EV miRNAs are associated with antiviral function, suggesting that to promote survival HBV coopts EVs to excrete anti-HBV intracellular miRNAs. These data suggest a novel mechanism by which HBV maintains its replication, which has therapeutic implications.
Keywords: extracellular vesicles; hepatitis B virus; intracellular environment; miRNA; viral persistence; viral replication.