Hepatitis B virus (HBV) e antigen (HBeAg) was discovered in 1972 as one of the serological markers of HBV infection. Although 25 years have passed since its initial discovery, the function of this antigen in the life cycle of HBV has remained elusive. Mutations in the HBV genome that prevent the expression of HBeAg do not abolish the replication of HBV, indicating that this antigen is not essential for HBV replication. In contrast, the conservation of the HBeAg gene in the genomes of related animal viruses, including the distantly related duck HBV, argues for an important function of this antigen. The purpose of the present article is to review the molecular biology of HBeAg and to examine its possible functions in the life cycle of HBV.