The expression and localization of the woodchuck hepatitis virus X-antigen (WHxAg) was examined and compared with other markers of a woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) infection using rabbit antisera generated against recombinant WHxAg produced in bacteria. Cellular fractionation studies showed that WHxAg was localized to the soluble and cytoskeletal fractions of the cell when assayed by immunoprecipitation of [35S]-met-cys labeled extracts derived from primary cultures of acute WHV-infected hepatocytes. Immunohistochemical examination of liver from chronic WHV-infected animals showed WHV core antigen (WHcAg) and WHxAg expression in non-neoplastic tissue. The WHxAg was found localized to the cytoplasm of infected cells, similar to WHcAg. WHxAg expression was diminished in the foci of altered hepatocytes and in hepatocellular adenomas but was found in only 1 of 11 hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC). Hepatic biopsies from woodchucks experimentally inoculated with WHV were examined during the acute phase of infection and during convalescence for WHcAg and WHxAg expression by immunohistochemistry. Concurrent expression of WHcAg and WHxAg was observed during the viremic phase of infection. The two antigens exhibited similar localization to the cell cytoplasm, similar distribution within the liver lobule, and similar patterns of clearance during convalescence. An immune response to WHxAg was documented in some woodchucks following acute WHV infection. These studies further define the woodchuck model of HBV infection and should allow for the investigation of the role of hepadnaviral X-antigen expression in the pathogenesis of chronic hepatitis and HCC.