Emtricitabine [(−)FTC] [(−)-β-2′,3′-dideoxy-5-fluoro-3′-thiacytidine] has been shown to be an effective inhibitor of hepatitis B virus (HBV) in cell culture, with a potency and selectivity that are essentially identical to those of lamivudine. The antiviral activity of oral administration of (−)FTC against WHV replication in chronically infected woodchucks, an established and predictive model for antiviral therapy against HBV, was examined in a placebo-controlled study. (−)FTC significantly reduced viremia and intrahepatic WHV replication in a dose-dependent manner that was comparable to the antiviral activity of lamivudine observed in previous studies conducted by our laboratories. No effect on the levels of hepatic WHV RNA or the levels of woodchuck hepatitis surface antigen or anti-woodchuck hepatitis surface and core antibodies in the serum of the treated animals was observed. No evidence of drug-related toxicity was observed in any of the animals treated.
The woodchuck (Marmota monax) has proven to be a suitable animal model for studying hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection owing to similarities in the course of infection between woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) in woodchucks and HBV in humans. (-)-beta-L-2',3'-Dideoxy-3'-thiacytidine (3TC; lamivudine) is a nucleoside analog which has demonstrated antiviral activity against HBV as well as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The purpose of the present investigation was to characterize the pharmacokinetics of 3TC following intravenous and oral administration of 20 mg of 3TC per kg of body weight to woodchucks. Following intravenous administration, the concentrations of 3TC in plasma declined, with a terminal half-life of 2.84 +/- 0.85 h (mean +/- standard deviation). The systemic clearance and steady-state volume of distribution of 3TC were 0.22 +/- 0.078 liters/h/kg and 0.75 +/- 0.13 liters/kg, respectively. The renal clearance of the nucleoside analog was 0.063 +/- 0.016 liters/h/kg. The oral bioavailability of 3TC ranged from 18 to 54%. Allometric relationships between pharmacokinetic parameters and body weight developed by Hussey et al. (E.K. Hussey, K.H. Donn, M.J. Daniel, S.T. Hall, A.J. Harker, and G.L. Evans, J. Clin. Pharmacol. 34:975-977, 1994) were augmented by including data from woodchucks, monkeys (S.M. Blaney, M.J. Daniel, A.J. Harker, K. Godwin, and F.M. Balis, Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 39:2779-2782, 1995), and additional data from rats (P. Rajagopalan, L. Moore, C.K. Chu, R.F. Schinazi, and F.D. Boudinot, submitted for publication). Interspecies scaling of the pharmacokinetic parameters of 3TC demonstrated a good correlation between clearance (0.74 . W0.76 [where W is body weight]; r = 0.93; P < 0.025), apparent volume of distribution (1.62 . W0.81; r = 0.98; P < 0.005), and steady-state volume of distribution (1.09 . W0.94; r = 0.99; P < 0.05) and species body weight. The allometric relationships for clearance and volume of distribution at steady state predicted the observed pharmacokinetic parameters in humans quite well; however, the apparent volume of distribution was underestimated in humans. Thus, the pharmacokinetic data obtained with the woodchuck HBV animal model should be useful for designing clinical trials.
Adefovir dipivoxil (ADV) and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) are nucleotide analogs that inhibit the replication of wild-type hepatitis B virus (HBV) and lamivudine (3TC)-resistant virus in HBV-infected patients, including those who are coinfected with human immunodeficiency virus. The combination of ADV or TDF with other nucleoside analogs is a proposed strategy for managing antiviral drug resistance during the treatment of chronic HBV infection. The antiviral effect of oral ADV or TDF, alone or in combination with 3TC or emtricitabine (FTC), against chronic woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) infection was evaluated in a placebo-controlled study in the woodchuck, an established and predictive model for antiviral therapy. Once-daily treatment for 48 weeks with ADV plus 3TC or TDF plus FTC significantly reduced serum WHV viremia levels from the pretreatment level by 6.2 log10 and 6.1 log10 genome equivalents/ml serum, respectively, followed by TDF plus 3TC (5.6 log10 genome equivalents/ml), ADV alone (4.8 log10 genome equivalents/ml), ADV plus FTC (one survivor) (4.4 log10 genome equivalents/ml), TDF alone (2.9 log10 genome equivalents/ml), 3TC alone (2.7 log10 genome equivalents/ml), and FTC alone (2.0 log10 genome equivalents/ml). Individual woodchucks across all treatment groups also demonstrated pronounced declines in serum WHV surface antigen, characteristically accompanied by declines in hepatic WHV replication and the hepatic expression of WHV antigens. Most woodchucks had prompt recrudescence of WHV replication after drug withdrawal, but individual woodchucks across treatment groups had sustained effects. No signs of toxicity were observed for any of the drugs or drug combinations administered. In conclusion, the oral administration of 3TC, FTC, ADV, and TDF alone and in combination was safe and effective in the woodchuck model of HBV infection.
A novel l-nucleoside analog of deoxycytidine, 2′,3′-dideoxy-2′,3′-didehydro-β-l-5-fluorocytidine (β-l-Fd4C), was recently shown to strongly inhibit hepatitis B virus (HBV) replication in the 2.2.15 cell line. Therefore, its antiviral activity was evaluated in the duck HBV (DHBV) infection model. Using a cell-free system for the expression of the DHBV polymerase, β-l-Fd4C-TP exhibited a concentration-dependent inhibition of dCTP incorporation into viral minus-strand DNA with a 50% inhibitory concentration of 0.2 μM which was lower than that of other tested deoxycytidine analogs, i.e., lamivudine-TP, ddC-TP, and β-l-FddC-TP. Further analysis showed that β-l-Fd4C-TP is likely to be a competitive inhibitor of dCTP incorporation and to cause premature DNA chain termination. In primary duck hepatocyte cultures infected in vitro, β-l-Fd4C administration exhibited a long-lasting inhibitory effect on viral DNA synthesis but could not clear viral covalently closed circular DNA (CCC DNA). Results of short-term antiviral treatment in experimentally infected ducklings showed that β-l-Fd4C exhibited the most potent antiviral effect, followed by β-l-FddC, lamivudine, and ddC. Longer administration of β-l-Fd4C induced a sustained suppression of viremia (>95% of controls) and of viral DNA synthesis within the liver. However, the persistence of trace amounts of viral CCC DNA detected only by PCR was associated with a recurrence of viral replication after drug withdrawal. In parallel, β-l-Fd4C treatment suppressed viral antigen expression within the liver and decreased intrahepatic inflammation and was not associated with any sign of toxicity. Our data, therefore, demonstrate that in the duck model of HBV infection, β-l-Fd4C is a potent inhibitor of DHBV reverse transcriptase activity in vitro and suppresses viral replication in the liver in vivo.
beta-L-Nucleoside analogs represent a new class of potent antiviral agents with low cytotoxicity which provide new hope in the therapy of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections. We evaluated the anti-HBV activity of 2',3'-dideoxy-beta-L-5-fluorocytidine (beta-L-F-ddC), a beta-L-nucleoside analog derived from 2',3'-dideoxycytidine (ddC), in the duck HBV (DHBV) model. This compound was previously shown to inhibit HBV DNA synthesis in a stably transfected hepatoma cell line (F2215). Using a cell-free system for the expression of an enzymatically active DHBV polymerase, we could demonstrate that the triphosphate form of beta-L-F-ddC does inhibit hepadnavirus reverse transcription. In primary duck hepatocyte culture, beta-L-F-ddC showed a potent inhibitory effect on DHBV DNA synthesis which was concentration dependent. Although beta-L-F-ddC was shown to be less active than ddC against the DHBV reverse transcriptase in vitro, beta-L-F-ddC was a stronger inhibitor in hepatocytes. The oral administration of beta-L-F-ddC in experimentally infected ducklings showed that beta-L-F-ddC is a potent inhibitor of viral replication in vivo. Short-term therapy could not prevent a rebound of viral replication after the drug was withdrawn. Preventive therapy with beta-L-F-ddC could delay the onset of viremia by only 1 day compared with the time to the onset of viremia in the control group. The in vivo inhibitory effect of beta-L-F-ddC was much stronger than that of ddC and was not associated with signs of toxicity. Our data show that beta-L-F-ddC inhibits hepadnavirus reverse transcription and is a strong inhibitor of viral replication both in vitro and in vivo.
Lamivudine [(−)-β-l-2′,3′-dideoxy-3′-thiacytidine] reduces woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) titers in the sera of chronically infected woodchucks by inhibiting viral DNA synthesis. However, after 6 to 12 months, WHV titers begin to increase toward pretreatment levels. Three WHV variants with mutations in the active site of the DNA polymerase gene are present at this time (W. S. Mason et al., Virology 245:18–32, 1998). We have asked if these mutant viruses were responsible for the lamivudine resistance and if their emergence caused an immediate rise in virus titers. Cell cultures studies implied that the mutants were resistant to lamivudine. Emergence of mutant WHV was not always associated, however, with an immediate rise in virus titers in the serum. One of the three types of mutant viruses became prominent in serum up to 7 months before titers in serum actually began to increase, at a time when wild-type virus was still predominant in the liver. The two other mutants did not show this behavior but were detected in serum and liver later, just at the time that virus titers began to rise. A factor linking all three mutants was that a similar duration of drug administration preceded the rise in titers, irrespective of which mutant ultimately prevailed. A simple explanation for these results is that the increase in virus titers following emergence of drug-resistant mutants can occur only as the preexisting wild-type virus is cleared from the hepatocyte population, allowing spread of the mutants. Thus, prolonged suppression of virus titers in the serum may sometimes be a measure of the stability of hepatocyte infection rather than of a successful therapeutic outcome.
MIV-210 is a prodrug of 3′-fluoro-2′,3′-dideoxyguanosine with high oral bioavailability in humans and potent activity against hepatitis B virus (HBV). Woodchucks infected with woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) represent an accurate model of HBV infection that is utilized for evaluation of the efficacy and safety of novel anti-HBV agents. Oral administration of MIV-210 at 20 or 60 mg/kg of body weight/day induced a rapid virological response in chronically infected woodchucks, reducing serum WHV DNA levels by 4.75 log10 and 5.72 log10, respectively, in 2 weeks. A progressive decline in WHV viremia occurred throughout the 10-week therapy, giving final reductions of 7.23 log10 and 7.68 log10 in the 20- and 60-mg/kg/day groups, respectively. Further, a daily dose of 10 mg/kg decreased the serum WHV load 400-fold after 4 weeks of treatment, and a dose of 5 mg/kg/day was sufficient to maintain this antiviral effect during the following 6-week period. MIV-210 at 20 or 60 mg/kg/day reduced the liver WHV DNA load 200- to 2,500-fold from pretreatment levels and, importantly, led to a 2.0 log10 drop in the hepatic content of WHV covalently closed circular DNA. The treatment with 60 mg/kg/day was well tolerated. Liver biopsy specimens obtained after the 10-week treatment with 20 or 60 mg/kg/day and after the 10-week follow-up showed hepatocyte and mitochondrial ultrastructures comparable to those in the placebo-treated group. It was concluded that MIV-210 is highly effective against chronic WHV infection. These findings, together with the previously demonstrated inhibitory activity of MIV-210 against lamivudine-, adefovir-, and entecavir-resistant HBV variants, make MIV-210 a highly valuable candidate for further testing as an agent against chronic hepatitis B.
Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) is a nucleotide analogue approved for treatment of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. TDF also has been shown in vitro to inhibit replication of wild-type hepatitis B virus (HBV) and lamivudine-resistant HBV mutants and to inhibit lamivudine-resistant HBV in patients and HBV in patients coinfected with the HIV. Data on the in vivo efficacy of TDF against wild-type virus in non-HIV-coinfected or lamivudine-naïve chronic HBV-infected patients are lacking in the published literature. The antiviral effect of oral administration of TDF against chronic woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) infection, an established and predictive animal model for antiviral therapy, was evaluated in a placebo-controlled, dose-ranging study (doses, 0.5 to 15.0 mg/kg of body weight/day). Four weeks of once-daily treatment with TDF doses of 0.5, 1.5, or 5.0 mg/kg/day reduced serum WHV viremia significantly (0.2 to 1.5 log reduction from pretreatment level). No effects on the levels of anti-WHV core and anti-WHV surface antibodies in serum or on the concentrations of WHV RNA or WHV antigens in the liver of treated woodchucks were observed. Individual TDF-treated woodchucks demonstrated transient declines in WHV surface antigen serum antigenemia and, characteristically, these woodchucks also had transient declines in serum WHV viremia, intrahepatic WHV replication, and hepatic expression of WHV antigens. No evidence of toxicity was observed in any of the TDF-treated woodchucks. Following drug withdrawal there was prompt recrudescence of WHV viremia to pretreatment levels. It was concluded that oral administration of TDF for 4 weeks was safe and effective in the woodchuck model of chronic HBV infection.
The guanosine analogs BMS-200475 and lobucavir have previously been shown to effectively suppress propagation of the human hepatitis B virus (HBV) and woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) in 2.2.15 liver cells and in the woodchuck animal model system, respectively. This repression was presumed to occur via inhibition of the viral polymerase (Pol) by the triphosphate (TP) forms of BMS-200475 and lobucavir which are both produced in mammalian cells. To determine the exact mode of action, BMS-200475–TP and lobucavir-TP, along with several other guanosine analog-TPs and lamivudine-TP were tested against the HBV, WHV, and duck hepatitis B virus (DHBV) polymerases in vitro. Estimates of the 50% inhibitory concentrations revealed that BMS-200475–TP and lobucavir-TP inhibited HBV, WHV, and DHBV Pol comparably and were superior to the other nucleoside-TPs tested. More importantly, both analogs blocked the three distinct phases of hepadnaviral replication: priming, reverse transcription, and DNA-dependent DNA synthesis. These data suggest that the modest potency of lobucavir in 2.2.15 cells may be the result of poor phosphorylation in vivo. Kinetic studies revealed that BMS-200475–TP and lobucavir-TP competitively inhibit HBV Pol and WHV Pol with respect to the natural dGTP substrate and that both drugs appear to bind to Pol with very high affinities. Endogenous sequencing reactions conducted in replicative HBV nucleocapsids suggested that BMS-200475–TP and lobucavir-TP are nonobligate chain terminators that stall Pol at sites that are distinct yet characteristically two to three residues downstream from dG incorporation sites.
Treatment of hepatitis B virus carriers with the nucleoside analog lamivudine suppresses virus replication. However, rather than completely eliminating the virus, long-term treatment often ends in the outgrowth of drug-resistant variants. Using woodchucks chronically infected with woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV), we investigated the consequences of combining lamivudine treatment with immunotherapy mediated by an adenovirus superinfection. Eight infected woodchucks were treated with lamivudine and four were infected with ∼1013 particles of an adenovirus type 5 vector expressing β-galactosidase. Serum samples and liver biopsies collected following the combination therapy revealed a 10- to 20-fold reduction in DNA replication intermediates in three of four woodchucks at 2 weeks after adenovirus infection. At the same time, covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) and viral mRNA levels both declined about two- to threefold in those woodchucks, while mRNA levels for gamma interferon and tumor necrosis factor alpha as well as for the T-cell markers CD4 and CD8 were elevated about twofold. Recovery from adenovirus infection was marked by elevation of sorbitol dehydrogenase, a marker for hepatocyte necrosis, as well as an 8- to 10-fold increase in expression of proliferating cell nuclear antigen, a marker for DNA synthesis, indicating significant hepatocyte turnover. The fact that replicative DNA levels declined more than cccDNA and mRNA levels following adenovirus infection suggests that the former decline either was cytokine induced or reflects instability of replicative DNA in regenerating hepatocytes. Virus titers in all four woodchucks were only transiently suppressed, suggesting that the effect of combination therapy is transient and, at least under the conditions used, does not cure chronic WHV infections.
The immunity elicited against nucleocapsid of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and closely related woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) has been shown to be important in resolution of hepatitis and protection from infection. Further, activity of gamma interferon (IFN-γ), which may directly inhibit hepadnavirus replication, promotes antiviral defense and favors T helper cell type 1 (Th1) response, which is seemingly a prerequisite of HBV clearance. In this study, to enhance induction of protective immunity against hepadnavirus, healthy woodchucks were immunized with a bicistronic DNA vaccine carrying WHV core (WHc) and woodchuck IFN-γ (wIFN-γ) gene sequences. Three groups, each group containing three animals, were injected once or twice with 0.5 mg, 0.9 mg, or 1.5 mg per dose of this vaccine. In addition, four animals received two injections of 0.6 mg or 1 mg WHc DNA alone. All animals were challenged with WHV. The results showed that four of nine animals injected with the bicistronic vaccine and one of four immunized with WHc DNA became protected from serologically evident infection and hepatitis. This protection was not linked to induction of WHc antigen-specific antibodies or T-cell proliferative response and was not associated with enhanced transcription of Th1 cytokines or 2′,5′-oligoadenylate synthetase. Strikingly, all animals protected from hepatitis became reactive for WHV DNA and carried low levels of replicating virus in hepatic and lymphoid tissues after challenge with WHV. This study shows that the bicistronic DNA vaccine encoding both hepadnavirus core antigen and IFN-γ was more effective in preventing hepatitis than that encoding virus core alone, but neither of them could mount sterile immunity against the virus or prevent establishment of occult infection.
(−)-β-d-2-Aminopurine dioxolane (APD) is a nucleoside prodrug that is efficiently converted to 9-(β-d-1,3-dioxolan-4-yl)guanine (DXG). DXG has antiviral activity in vitro against hepatitis B virus (HBV) but limited aqueous solubility, making it difficult to administer orally to HBV-infected individuals. APD is more water soluble than DXG and represents a promising prodrug for the delivery of DXG. A placebo-controlled, dose-ranging efficacy and pharmacokinetic study was conducted with woodchucks that were chronically infected with woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV). APD was efficiently converted to DXG after oral and intravenous administrations of APD, with serum concentrations of DXG being higher following oral administration than following intravenous administration, suggestive of a considerable first-pass intestinal and/or hepatic metabolism. APD administered orally at 1, 3, 10, and 30 mg/kg of body weight per day for 4 weeks produced a dose-dependent antiviral response. Doses of 3 and 10 mg/kg/day reduced serum WHV viremia by 0.4 and 0.7 log10 copies/ml, respectively. The 30-mg/kg/day dose resulted in a more pronounced, statistically significant decline in serum WHV viremia of 1.9 log10 copies/ml and was associated with a 1.5-fold reduction in hepatic WHV DNA. Individual woodchucks within the highest APD dose group that had declines in serum WHV surface antigen levels, WHV viremia, and hepatic WHV DNA also had reductions in hepatic WHV RNA. There was a prompt recrudescence of WHV viremia following drug withdrawal. Therefore, oral administration of APD for 4 weeks was safe in the woodchuck model of chronic HBV infection, and the effect on serum WHV viremia was dose dependent.
The essential role of multispecific immune responses for the control of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection implies the need of multimodal therapeutic strategies for chronic HBV infection, including antiviral chemotherapy and immunomodulation. This hypothesis was tested in the woodchuck model by a combination of lamivudine pretreatment and subsequent immunizations of woodchucks chronically infected with woodchuck hepatitis virus. The immunizations were performed with DNA vaccines or antigen-antibody immune complexes (IC)/DNA vaccines. Immunizations with IC/DNA vaccines led to an anti-woodchuck hepatitis virus surface antibody response and significant reductions of viral load and antigenemia, suggesting that such a strategy may be effective against chronic HBV infection.
Woodchucks (Marmota monax) have a high incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) associated with chronic infection with woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) and serve as a model of hepatitis B virus-associated HCC in humans. Helicobacter hepaticus, an enterohepatic helicobacter in mice, is known to cause hepatocellular adenomas and carcinomas in susceptible mouse strains. In long-term chemical bioassays conducted with B6C3F1 mice, H. hepaticus has been regarded as a confounding factor because of its tumor-promoting activity. In order to determine if woodchucks harbor a Helicobacter sp. that might play a role in potentiating hepatic inflammation or neoplasia, a study was undertaken to determine whether woodchucks' livers were infected with a Helicobacter sp. Frozen liver samples from 20 (17 WHV-infected and 3 noninfected) woodchucks, 10 with WHV-associated hepatic tumors and 10 without tumors, were cultured by microaerobic techniques and analyzed by using genus- and species-specific helicobacter PCR primers. A 1,200-bp Helicobacter sp.-specific sequence was amplified from 14 liver samples. Southern hybridization confirmed the specific identity of the PCR products. Nine of the 10 livers with tumors had positive Helicobacter sp. identified by PCR, whereas 5 of the 10 livers without tumors were positive. By use of 16S rRNA species-specific primers for H. marmotae, two additional liver samples from the nontumor group had positive PCR amplicons confirmed by Southern hybridization. A urease-, catalase-, and oxidase-positive bacterium was isolated from one liver sample from a liver tumor-positive woodchuck. By 16S rRNA analysis and biochemical and phenotypic characteristics, the organism was classified as a novel Helicobacter sp. Subsequently, four additional bacterial strains isolated from feces of cats and characterized by biochemical, phenotypic, and 16S rRNA analysis were determined to be identical to the woodchuck isolate. We propose the name Helicobacter marmotae sp. nov. for these organisms. Further studies are required to ascertain if this novel Helicobacter sp. plays a tumor promotion role in hepadnavirus-associated tumors in woodchucks or causes enterohepatic disease in cats.
Administration of either lamivudine (2′-deoxy-3′-thiacytidine) or l-FMAU (2′-fluoro-5-methyl-β-l-arabinofuranosyluracil) to woodchucks chronically infected with woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) induces a transient decline in virus titers. However, within 6 to 12 months, virus titers begin to increase towards pretreatment levels. This is associated with the emergence of virus strains with mutations of the B and C regions of the viral DNA polymerase (T. Zhou et al., Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 43:1947–1954, 1999; Y. Zhu et al., J. Virol. 75:311–322, 2001). The present study was carried out to determine which of the mutants that we have identified conferred resistance to lamivudine and/or to l-FMAU. When inserted into a laboratory strain of WHV, each of the mutations, or combinations of mutations, of regions B and C produced a DNA replication-competent virus and typically conferred resistance to both nucleoside analogs in cell culture. Sequencing of the polymerase active site also occasionally revealed other mutations, but these did not appear to contribute to drug resistance. Moreover, in transfected cells, most of the mutants synthesized viral DNA nearly as efficiently as wild-type WHV. Computational models suggested that persistence of several of the WHV mutants as prevalent species in the serum and, by inference, liver for up to 6 months following drug withdrawal required a replication efficiency of at least 10 to 30% of that of the wild type. However, their delayed emergence during therapy suggested replication efficiency in the presence of the drug that was still well below that of wild-type WHV in the absence of the drug.
Treatment of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection could combine potent antiviral drugs and therapeutic vaccines to overcome immunological tolerance and induce the recovery phenotype to protect against disease progression. Conventional vaccination of woodchucks chronically infected with the woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) elicited differential T-cell response profiles depending on whether or not carriers were treated with the potent antiviral drug clevudine (CLV), which significantly reduces viral and antigen loads. The differential T-cell responses defined both CLV-dependent and CLV-independent epitopes of the pre-S and S regions of the WHV envelope protein. Only combined treatment involving CLV and conventional vaccine therapeutically restored the T-cell response profile of chronic WHV carrier woodchucks to that seen in prophylactic vaccination and in recovery from acute WHV infection. The results have implications for mechanisms of immunological tolerance operating in chronic HBV infection and suggest that such combined chemoimmunotherapy may be useful for treatment of humans with chronic HBV infection.
More than 350 million people worldwide are chronically infected with the human hepatitis B virus (HBV). Chronic HBV infections are associated with the development of hepatocellular carcinoma. While the mechanism of HBV-associated carcinoma remains undefined, it is thought to involve a combination of a continuous inflammatory response to HBV-infected hepatocytes and activities of HBV proteins such as the HBV X protein (HBx). HBx stimulates HBV replication; however, the mechanism by which HBx stimulates HBV replication remains incompletely understood. Studies performed with the woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) in woodchucks demonstrated that a C-terminally truncated mutant of the WHV X protein could not stimulate WHV replication. However, whether the C-terminus of HBx is important for HBx-stimulation of HBV replication is unclear. We have constructed C-terminal truncation mutants of HBx and have demonstrated that the C-terminus of HBx impacts HBx stability, HBx activation of transcription, and HBx stimulation of HBV replication. These observations highlight the impact of the HBx C-terminus on HBx activities and the importance of directly analyzing HBx expression and functions in HBV-associated tumors that contain chromosomal integrants of HBV with truncations of the HBx gene.
A unique series of simple “unnatural” nucleosides has been discovered to inhibit hepatitis B virus (HBV) replication. Through structure-activity analysis it was found that the 3′-OH group of the β-l-2′-deoxyribose of the β-l-2′-deoxynucleoside confers specific antihepadnavirus activity. The unsubstituted nucleosides β-l-2′-deoxycytidine, β-l-thymidine, and β-l-2′-deoxyadenosine had the most potent, selective, and specific antiviral activity against HBV replication. Human DNA polymerases (α, β, and γ) and mitochondrial function were not affected. In the woodchuck model of chronic HBV infection, viral load was reduced by as much as 108 genome equivalents/ml of serum and there was no drug-related toxicity. In addition, the decline in woodchuck hepatitis virus surface antigen paralleled the decrease in viral load. These investigational drugs, used alone or in combination, are expected to offer new therapeutic options for patients with chronic HBV infection.
The peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) of five hepatitis B virus (HBV)-infected chimpanzees and 17 woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV)-infected woodchucks were examined for the presence of viral DNA and RNA. HBV DNA was detected in the PBL of three of three chronically infected chimpanzees but in neither of two animals with acute HBV infection. WHV DNA was found in the PBL of 11 of 13 chronically infected woodchucks and in the PBL and bone marrow of 1 of 4 woodchucks with antibody to WHV surface antigen. Viral DNA in the PBL and bone marrow was episomal, primarily existing as multimers with some monomeric forms. Integrated HBV DNA was detected in the PBL of one chronically infected chimpanzee, but only for a brief period. Viral RNA was also detected in the PBL, although less frequently than was DNA. HBV RNA in chimpanzee PBL existed as 3.8- and 7.5-kilobase species, while 2.3- and 3.8-kilobase WHV RNA was found in woodchuck PBL. Subfractionation of PBL isolated from the chronically infected chimpanzees demonstrated that HBV DNA and RNA were located in B and T cells. No HBV DNA was detected in the macrophages. These results, along with the recent reports of HBV nucleic acids in the PBL of human patients, suggest that infection of PBL may be a general phenomenon associated with the pathology of hepadnaviruses.
Woodchucks chronically infected with woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) are a valuable model for human hepatitis B virus (HBV) in studies of pathogenesis, immunity, and antiviral therapy. For this reason, substantial efforts to characterize both the similarities and the differences between HBV and WHV are being made. The structure of the WHV surface proteins (WHs proteins) has not yet been adequately elucidated. The bands that would be expected for glycosylated and nonglycosylated small (S) WHs protein are found by sodium dodecyl sulfate gel electrophoresis of purified WHs protein, but the bands corresponding to the middle (M) and large (L) WHs proteins of HBV are not seen at the expected sizes, even though the sequences of the WHV and HBV surface protein genes are 60% homologous. By amino-terminal sequencing we have identified two bands at 41 and 45 kDa as the MWHs proteins, 8 kDa larger than expected. We have also confirmed that two bands at 24 and 27 kDa are SWHs proteins. A protein of 49 kDa was blocked at the N terminus, which using immunoblotting with an antiserum against WHV pre-S1 (positions 126 to 146) was identified, together with a part of the 45-kDa protein, as glycosylated and nonglycosylated LWHs protein of the expected size. Sialidase and O-glycosidase digestion showed that the larger size of MWHs protein results from the presence of O glycoside groups which are probably in the pre-S2 domain of MWHs protein. Since the pre-S2 domains of HBV and WHV have similar numbers of potential O glycosylation sites, it appears to be likely that the glycosyltransferases act differently on the viral proteins in woodchucks and humans.
Specific activation of T cells appears to be a prerequisite for viral clearance during hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. The T-cell response to HBV core protein is essential in determining an acute or chronic outcome of HBV infection, but how this immune response contributes to the course of infection remains unclear. This is due to results obtained from humans, which are restricted to phenomenological observations occurring during the clinical onset after HBV infection. Thus, a useful animal model is needed. Characterization of the T-cell response to the core protein (WHcAg) of woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) in woodchucks contributes to the understanding of these mechanisms. Therefore, we investigated the response of woodchuck peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) to WHcAg and WHcAg-derived peptides, using our 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine assay. We demonstrated WHcAg-specific proliferation of PBMCs and nylon wool-nonadherent cells from acutely WHV-infected woodchucks. Using a cross-reacting anti-human T-cell (CD3) antiserum, we identified nonadherent cells as woodchuck T cells. T-cell epitope mapping with overlapping peptides, covering the entire WHcAg, revealed T-cell responses of acutely WHV-infected woodchucks to peptide1-20, peptide100-119, and peptide112-131. Detailed epitope analysis in the WHcAg region from amino acids 97 to 140 showed that T cells especially recognized peptide97-110. Establishment of polyclonal T-cell lines with WHcAg or peptide97-110 revealed reciprocal stimulation by peptide97-110 or WHcAg, respectively. We vaccinated woodchucks with peptide97-110 or WHcAg to prove the importance of this immunodominant T-cell epitope. All woodchucks immunized with peptide97-110 or WHcAg were protected. Our results show that the cellular immune response to WHcAg or to one T-cell epitope protects woodchucks from WHV infection.
Chronic hepatitis B is a major cause of liver-related death worldwide. Interleukin-12 (IL-12) induction accompanies viral clearance in chronic hepatitis B virus infection. Here, we tested the therapeutic potential of IL-12 gene therapy in woodchucks chronically infected with woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV), an infection that closely resembles chronic hepatitis B. The woodchucks were treated by intrahepatic injection of a helper-dependent adenoviral vector encoding IL-12 under the control of a liver-specific RU486-responsive promoter. All woodchucks with viral loads below 1010 viral genomes (vg)/ml showed a marked and sustained reduction of viremia that was accompanied by a reduction in hepatic WHV DNA, a loss of e antigen and surface antigen, and improved liver histology. In contrast, none of the woodchucks with higher viremia levels responded to therapy. The antiviral effect was associated with the induction of T-cell immunity against viral antigens and a reduction of hepatic expression of Foxp3 in the responsive animals. Studies were performed in vitro to elucidate the resistance to therapy in highly viremic woodchucks. These studies showed that lymphocytes from healthy woodchucks or from animals with low viremia levels produced gamma interferon (IFN-γ) upon IL-12 stimulation, while lymphocytes from woodchucks with high viremia failed to upregulate IFN-γ in response to IL-12. In conclusion, IL-12-based gene therapy is an efficient approach to treat chronic hepadnavirus infection in woodchucks with viral loads below 1010 vg/ml. Interestingly, this therapy is able to break immunological tolerance to viral antigens in chronic WHV carriers.
Woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) mutants with core internal deletions (CID) occur naturally in chronically WHV-infected woodchucks, as do hepatitis B virus mutants in humans. We studied the replication of WHV deletion mutants in primary woodchuck hepatocyte cultures and in vivo after transmission to naive woodchucks. By screening 14 wild-caught, chronically WHV-infected woodchucks, two woodchucks, WH69 and WH70, were found to harbor WHV CID mutants. Consistent with previous results, WHV CID mutants from both animals had deletions of variable lengths (90 to 135 bp) within the middle of the WHV core gene. In woodchuck WH69, WHV CID mutants represented a predominant fraction of the viral population in sera, normal liver tissues, and to a lesser extent, in liver tumor tissues. In primary hepatocytes of WH69, the replication of wild-type WHV and CID mutants was maintained at least for 7 days. Although WHV CID mutants were predominant in fractions of cellular WHV replicative intermediates, mutant covalently closed circular DNAs (cccDNAs) appeared to be a small part of cccDNA-enriched fractions. Analysis of cccDNA-enriched fractions from liver tissues of other woodchucks confirmed that mutant cccDNA represents only a small fraction of the total cccDNA pool. Four naive woodchucks were inoculated with sera from woodchuck WH69 or WH70 containing WHV CID mutants. All four woodchucks developed viremia after 3 to 4 weeks postinoculation (p.i.). They developed anti-WHV core antigen (WHcAg) antibody, lymphoproliferative response to WHcAg, and anti-WHV surface antigen. Only wild-type WHV, but no CID mutant, was found in sera from these woodchucks. The WHV CID mutant was also not identified in liver tissue from one woodchuck sacrificed in week 7 p.i. Three remaining woodchucks cleared WHV. Thus, the presence of WHV CID mutants in the inocula did not significantly change the course of acute self-limiting WHV infection. Our results indicate that the replication of WHV CID mutants might require some specific selective conditions. Further investigations on WHV CID mutants will allow us to have more insight into hepadnavirus replication.
The antiviral drug 2′,3′-didehydro-3′-deoxythymidine (D4T; also know as stavudine and Zerit), which is used against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), causes delayed toxicity (peripheral neuropathy) in long-term use. After examining a series of 2′,3′-didehydro-3′-deoxy-4′-substituted thymidine (4′-substituted D4T) analogs, 4′-ethynyl D4T was found to have a fivefold-better antiviral effect and to cause less cellular and mitochondrial toxicity than D4T. The antiviral activity of this compound can be reversed by dThd but not by dCyd. The compound acted synergistically with β-l-2′,3′-deoxy-3′-thiacytidine (also known as lamivudine) and β-l-2′,3′-dideoxy-2′,3′-didehydro-5-fluorocytidine (also known as elvucitabine) and additively with 2′,3′-dideoxyinosine (also known as didanosine and Videx) and 3′-azido-3′-deoxythymidine (also known as Retovir and zidovudine) against HIV. 4′-Ethynyl D4T is phosphorylated by purified human thymidine kinase 1 (TK-1) from CEM cells with a faster relative Vmax and a lower Km value than D4T. The efficiency of TK-1 in the phosphorylation of 4′-ethynyl D4T is fourfold better than that of D4T. While D4T is broken down by the catabolic enzyme thymidine phosphorylase, the level of breakdown of 4′-ethynyl D4T was below detection. Since 4′-ethynyl D4T has increased anti-HIV activity and decreased toxicity and interacts favorably with other currently used anti-HIV drugs, it should be considered for further development as an anti-HIV drug.
Daily oral treatment with the cyclopentyl 2′-deoxyguanosine nucleoside BMS-200475 at doses ranging from 0.02 to 0.5 mg/kg of body weight for 1 to 3 months effectively reduced the level of woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) viremia in chronically infected woodchucks as measured by reductions in serum WHV DNA levels and endogenous hepadnaviral polymerase activity. Within 4 weeks of daily therapy with 0.5 or 0.1 mg of BMS-200475 per kg, endogenous viral polymerase levels in serum were reduced about 1,000-fold compared to pretreatment levels. Serum WHV DNA levels determined by a dot blot hybridization technique were comparably decreased in these treated animals. In the 3-month study, the sera of animals that had undetectable levels of WHV DNA by the dot blot technique were further analyzed by a highly sensitive semiquantitative PCR assay. The results indicate that BMS-200475 therapy reduced mean WHV titers by 107- to 108-fold, down to levels as low as 102 to 103 virions/ml of serum. Southern blot hybridization analysis of liver biopsy samples taken from animals during and after BMS-200475 treatment showed remarkable reductions in the levels of WHV DNA replicative intermediates and in the levels of covalently closed circular viral DNA. WHV viremia in BMS-200475-treated WHV carriers eventually returned to pretreatment levels after therapy was stopped. These results indicate that BMS-200475 should be evaluated in clinical trials for the therapy of chronic human hepatitis B virus infections.