Hepatitis B virus(HBV) infection remains a global problem, despite the effectiveness of the Hepatitis B vaccine in preventing infection. The resolution of Hepatitis B virus infection has been believed to be attributable to virus-specific immunity. In vivo direct evaluation of anti-HBV immunity in the liver is currently not possible. We have developed a new assay system that detects HBV clearance in the liver after the hydrodynamic transfer of a reporter gene and over-length, linear HBV DNA into hepatocytes, followed by bioluminescence imaging of the reporter gene (Fluc). We employed bioluminescence detection of luciferase expression in HBV-infected hepatocytes to measure the Hepatitis B core antigen (HBcAg)-specific immune responses directed against these infected hepatocytes. Only HBcAg-immunized, but not mock-treated, animals decreased the amounts of luciferase expression, HBsAg and viral DNA from the liver at day 28 after hydrodynamic infection with over-length HBV DNA, indicating that control of luciferase expression correlates with viral clearance from infected hepatocytes.
It has been reported that hepatitis B virus (HBV) core protein (HBc) can inhibit the transcription of human interferon-induced MxA gene. In this study, we investigated whether HBc protein mutations at hot spots (L60V, S87G and I97L) could still inhibit MxA transcription and the potential significance of this inhibition in virus replication in vitro. Our data indicated that the IFN-induced MxA mRNA expression level and MxA promoter activity was significantly down-regulated by mutant protein of HBc(I97L), compared to WT and the other two mutated HBc proteins(L60V or S87G). However, in Huh7 cells stably expressing WT or the mutated HBc proteins (L60V, S87G or I97L), IFN-α could inhibit the extra- and intracellular HBV DNA level and HBsAg secretion to a similar level compared to that in cells transfected with control plasmids. In conclusion, HBc protein with I97L mutation may play an especial role in suppressing the transcription of MxA gene. Moreover, the inhibitory effect on MxA gene transcription by the WT or mutated HBc proteins (L60V, S87G and I97L) has no impact on inhibition of HBV replication by IFN-α in Huh7 cells. The clinical significance of the inhibitory effect of MxA gene transcription by HBc protein requires further study.
We have recently shown that hepatitis B virus (HBV) core antigen (HBcAg) is the major viral factor for HBV clearance using a hydrodynamics-based mouse model. Knockout of HBcAg hampers the development of antiviral immune responses and thus promotes HBV persistence. Here, we further demonstrated that only in the capsid form, but not the free or dimer form, can HBcAg exert its contributory role in HBV clearance. HBcAg is the main structural protein of HBV icosahedral nucleocapsid. A mutant HBV DNA which expresses an assembly-defective HBcAg, HBcAgY132A, surprisingly prolonged HBV surface antigenemia in both C57BL/6 and BALB/c mice without affecting viral transcription and translation. This result was not due to a loss of the possible immune epitope caused by the single-amino-acid substitution of HBcAg. Moreover, the particular HBV mutant failed to induce robust humoral and cellular immunity against HBV. These data revealed the requirement of capsid structure for inducing adequate immunity that leads to HBV clearance in mice.
The nucleocapsid of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) is composed of 180 to 240 copies of the HBV core (HBc) protein. HBc antigen (HBcAg) capsids are extremely immunogenic and can activate naive B cells by cross-linking their surface receptors. The molecular basis for the interaction between HBcAg and naive B cells is not known. The functionality of this activation was evidenced in that low concentrations of HBcAg, but not the nonparticulate homologue HBV envelope antigen (HBeAg), could prime naive B cells to produce anti-HBc in vitro with splenocytes from HBcAg- and HBeAg-specific T-cell receptor transgenic mice. The frequency of these HBcAg-binding B cells was estimated by both hybridoma techniques and flow cytometry (B7-2 induction and direct HBcAg binding) to be approximately 4 to 8% of the B cells in a naive spleen. Cloning and sequence analysis of the immunoglobulin heavy- and light-chain variable (VH and VL) domains of seven primary HBcAg-binding hybridomas revealed that six (86%) were related to the murine and human VH1 germ line gene families and one was related to the murine VH3 family. By using synthetic peptides spanning three VH1 sequences, one VH3 sequence, and one VLκV sequence, a linear motif in the framework region 1 (FR1)complementarity-determining region 1 (CDR1) junction of the VH1 sequence was identified that bound HBcAg. Interestingly, the HBcAg-binding motif was present in the VL domain of the HBcAg-binding VH3-encoded antibody. Finally, two monoclonal antibodies containing linear HBcAg-binding motifs blocked HBcAg presentation by purified naive B cells to purified HBcAg-primed CD4+ T cells. Thus, the ability of HBcAg to bind and activate a high frequency of naive B cells seems to be mediated through a linear motif present in the FR1-CDR1 junction of the heavy or light chain of the B-cell surface receptor.
An efficient pBR327- and Ptrp-based E. coli expression system was used to generate a large-scale library of virus like particles (VLP) formed by recombinant hepatitis B virus (HBV) core (HBc) protein derivatives. To construct the library, the gene of HBc protein of the genotype D/subtype ayw2 virus was gradually truncated from the 3`-end and twenty-two HBc variants (with truncation up to 139 aa) were expressed at high levels. The proteins were purified by salt precipitation and gel filtration. Background RNA binding was observed for VLPs formed by HBc1-149, which lacked all C-terminal Arg blocks, and the addition of three Arg residues (HBc1-152) only slightly increased RNA binding. The presence of two Arg blocks (proteins HBc1-162 and HBc1-163) resulted in approximately half of the typical level of RNA binding, and the presence of three blocks (protein HBc1-171) led to approximately 85% of the typical level of binding. Only a small increase in the level of RNA binding was found for the HBc1-175 VLPs, which contained all four Arg blocks but lacked the last 8 aa of the full-length HBc protein. VLPs containing high levels of RNA had higher antigenicity according to an ELISA with anti-HBc mAbs than the VLPs formed by HBc variants without C-terminal Arg blocks and lacking RNA. The results indicate that the VLPs were stabilised by nucleic acids. The immunogenicity in BALB/c mice was comparable for VLPs formed by different HBc proteins, but a clear switch from a Th1 response to a Th2 response occurred after the loss of encapsidated RNA. We did not observe significant differences in lymphocyte proliferation in vitro for the tested VLP variants; however, the loss of RNA encapsidation correlated with a decreased level of IFN-γ induction, which is a measure of the potential CTL activity of immunogens.
Previous studies demonstrated that the primary antigen presenting cells (APCs) for the hepatitis core antigen (HBcAg) were B cells and not dendritic cells (DC). We now report that splenic B1a and B1b cells more efficiently present soluble HBcAg to naïve CD4+ T cells than splenic B2 cells. This was demonstrated by direct HBcAg-biotin binding studies and by HBcAg-specific T cell activation in vitro in cultures of naïve HBcAg-specific T cells and resting B cell subpopulations.
The inability of DCs to function as APCs for exogenous HBcAg relates to lack of uptake of HBcAg, not to processing or presentation because HBcAg/anti-HBc immune complexes can be efficiently presented by DCs. Furthermore, HBcAg-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cell priming with DNA encoding HBcAg does not require B cell APCs.
Toll-like-receptor (TLR) activation, another innate immune response, was also examined. Full-length (HBcAg183), truncated (HBcAg149) and the nonparticulate HBeAg were screened for TLR stimulation via NF-Kβ activation in HEK293 cells expressing human TLRs. None of the HBc/HBeAgs activated human TLRs. Therefore, the HBc/HBeAg proteins are not ligands for human TLRs. However, the ssRNA contained within HBcAg183 does function as a TLR-7 ligand as demonstrated at the T and B cell levels in TLR-7 knock-out (KO) mice. Bacterial, yeast and mammalian ssRNA encapsidated within HBcAg183 all function as TLR-7 ligands. These studies indicate that innate immune mechanisms bridge to and enhance the adaptive immune response to HBcAg and have important implications for the use of hepadnavirus core proteins as vaccine carrier platforms.
hepatitis B core; antigen presentation; TLR-7; B cell subsets
Although immunodetection of hepatitis B core antigen (HBcAg) in the liver has long been recognized as a marker of active hepatitis B virus (HBV) replication, the correlation between the level of viral replication and the degrees of expression of HBcAg in hepatocytes remains to be established. In this study, we examined the semiquantitative relationship between the level of HBV DNA in serum and the degree of expression of HBcAg in the hepatocyte nucleus or cytoplasm in 80 adults with chronic hepatitis B. Expression of HBcAg in hepatocytes was studied by the avidin-biotin immunoperoxidase method, and the results were scored on a scale of 0 to 4, values corresponding to the positivity of 0, 1 to 10, 11 to 25, 26 to 50, and > 50%, respectively, of hepatocytes examined. Serum HBV DNA was tested by a liquid hybridization assay, and the results were scored on a scale of 0 to 5, values corresponding to undetectable levels and levels of < or = 50, 51 to 100, 101 to 150, 151 to 200, and > 200 pg/ml, respectively. The results revealed a highly significant, positive correlation between the level of HBV DNA in serum and the degree of expression of HBcAg in nuclei (Spearman rank correlation coefficient [rs] = 0.653, P < 0.001). The mean scores (95% confidence intervals) of levels of HBV DNA in sera of patients whose levels of expression of HBcAg in nuclei received a score of 0 (n = 33), 1 or 2 (n = 35), and 3 or 4 (n = 12) were 1.3 (1.1 to 1.5), 2.5 (2.1 to 2.9), and 3.9 (3.1 to 4.7), respectively. However, no correlation between the level of HBV DNA in serum and the degree of expression of HBcAg in the cytoplasm was noted (rs = 0.026, P > 0.8). In conclusion, the degree of expression of HBcAg in the hepatocyte nucleus but not the cytoplasm can accurately reflect the level of viral replication in patients with chronic hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) expresses two structural forms of the nucleoprotein, the intracellular nucleocapsid (hepatitis core antigen [HBcAg]) and the secreted nonparticulate form (hepatitis e antigen [HBeAg]). The aim of this study was to evaluate the ability of HBcAg- and HBeAg-specific genetic immunogens to induce HBc/HBeAg-specific CD4+/CD8+ T-cell immune responses and the potential to induce liver injury in HBV-transgenic (Tg) mice. Both the HBcAg- and HBeAg-specific plasmids primed comparable immune responses. Both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells were important for priming/effector functions of HBc/HBeAg-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) responses. However, a unique two-step immunization protocol was necessary to elicit maximal CTL priming. Genetic vaccination did not prime CTLs in HBe- or HBc/HBeAg-dbl-Tg mice but elicited a weak CTL response in HBcAg-Tg mice. When HBc/HBeAg-specific CTLs were adoptively transferred into HBc-, HBe-, and HBc/HBeAg-dbl-Tg mice, the durations of the liver injury and inflammation were significantly greater in HBeAg-Tg recipient mice than in HBcAg-Tg mice. Importantly, liver injury in HBc/HBeAg-dbl-Tg mice was similar to the injury observed in HBeAg-Tg mice. Loss of HBeAg synthesis commonly occurs during chronic HBV infection; however, the mechanism of selection of HBeAg-negative variants is unknown. The finding that hepatocytes expressing wild-type HBV (containing both HBcAg and HBeAg) are more susceptible to CTL-mediated clearance than hepatocytes expressing only HBcAg suggest that the HBeAg-negative variant may have a selective advantage over wild-type HBV within the livers of patients with chronic infection during an immune response and may represent a CTL escape mutant.
Duck hepatitis B virus (DHBV) shares many fundamental features with human HBV. However, the DHBV core protein (DHBc), forming the nucleocapsid shell, is much larger than that of HBV (HBc) and, in contrast to HBc, there is little direct information on its structure. Here we applied an efficient expression system for recombinant DHBc particles to the biochemical analysis of a large panel of mutant DHBc proteins. By combining these data with primary sequence alignments, secondary structure prediction, and three-dimensional modeling, we propose a model for the fold of DHBc. Its major features are a HBc-like two-domain structure with an assembly domain comprising the first about 185 amino acids and a C-terminal nucleic acid binding domain (CTD), connected by a morphogenic linker region that is longer than in HBc and extends into the CTD. The assembly domain shares with HBc a framework of four major α-helices but is decorated at its tip with an extra element that contains at least one helix and that is made up only in part by the previously predicted insertion sequence. All subelements are interconnected, such that structural changes at one site are transmitted to others, resulting in an unexpected variability of particle morphologies. Key features of the model are independently supported by the accompanying epitope mapping study. These data should be valuable for functional studies on the impact of core protein structure on virus replication, and some of the mutant proteins may be particularly suitable for higher-resolution structural investigations.
The transcriptional enhancer sequence has recently been demonstrated in the hepatitis B viral genome. This enhancer sequence has also been shown to increase the activity of HBcAg gene promoter. Using the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase gene expression system, we demonstrated that the intrinsic promoter activity of HBsAg gene promoter was stronger than that of HBcAg gene promoter in both human hepatoma cell lines, Hep3B and HuH-7. Furthermore, we showed that the HBV enhancer sequence not only stimulated the HBcAg gene promoter activity, but also stimulated the HBsAg gene promoter activity in both Hep3B and HuH-7 cells. The enhancer sequence increased the HBsAg gene promoter activity 20-fold in both Hep3B and HuH-7 cell lines, while the increase of the HBcAg gene promoter was 2- and 8-fold in Hep3B and HuH-7 cells, respectively.
AIM: To study the seroprevalence of antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc) in healthy blood donors negative for HBsAg and to evaluate whether anti-HBc detection could be adopted in India as a screening assay for HBV in addition to HBsAg.
METHODS: A total of 1700 serum samples collected from HBsAg-negative healthy blood donors were tested for the presence of anti-HBc antibody (IgM + IgG). All samples reactive for anti-HBc antibody were then investigated for presence of anti-HBs and for liver function tests (LFTs). One hundred serum samples reactive for anti-HBc were tested for HBV DNA by PCR method.
RESULTS: Out of 1700 samples tested, 142 (8.4%) blood samples were found to be reactive for anti-HBc. It was significantly lower in voluntary (6.9%) as compared to replacement donors (10.4%, P = 0.011). Seventy-two (50.7%) anti-HBc reactive samples were also reactive for anti-HBs with levels > 10 mIU/mL and 70 (49.3%) samples were non-reactive for anti-HBs, these units were labeled as anti-HBc-only. These 142 anti-HBc reactive units were also tested for liver function test. HBV DNA was detected in only 1 of 100 samples tested.
CONCLUSION: Keeping in view that 8%-18% of donor population in India is anti-HBc reactive, inclusion of anti-HBc testing will lead to high discard rate. Anti-HBs as proposed previously does not seem to predict clearance of the virus. Cost effectiveness of introducing universal anti-HBc screening and discarding large number of blood units versus considering ID NAT (Individual donor nuclic acid testing) needs to be assessed.
Hepatitis B core antigen; Hepatitis B surface antigen; Hepatitis B virus; Transfusion-associated hepatitis B virus; Blood donors
Response to interferon therapy in chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) carriers is preceded by the appearance of IgM class anti-HBc (antibody to hepatitis B core antigen). The temporal relationship and magnitude of the IgM anti-HBc response is variable suggesting that the antibody is not directly involved in hepatocyte lysis, but is merely a marker of a changed state of immunity to the nucleocapsid proteins, induced by interferon. IgG 1, 2, 3, and 4 class anti-HBc did not change during therapy, but IgG 3 anti-HBc was significantly lower in responders than non-responders. IgG anti-HBc of all subclasses was absent in two Chinese HBV carriers. Lower than normal titres of anti-HBc (p less than 0.001) were detected in human immunodeficiency virus antibody positive (anti-HIV) HBV carriers. These data indicate the presence of altered immunity to the nucleocapsid antigens in these two types of chronic HBV carrier that are known to respond poorly to antiviral therapy.
AIMS--To test the hypothesis that membranous staining of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) on the hepatocyte is a marker of active viral replication in chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. METHODS--Intrahepatic expression of HBsAg and hepatitis B core antigen (HBcAg) was studied by indirect immunofluorescence on frozen sections of liver specimens from 75 patients with chronic hepatitis B, and the results were correlated with serum levels of HBV-DNA assayed by spot hybridisation. RESULTS--Hepatocyte HBcAg was detected in all of 20 patients with serum levels of HBV-DNA > 1000 pg/ml, 18 (75%) of 24 patients with levels of HBV-DNA < or = 1000 pg/ml, and two (6.5%) of 31 patients without detectable serum HBV-DNA. The concordance between hepatocyte HBcAg and serum HBV-DNA was 89.3% (67/75). There were six patients (8%) who had detectable serum HBV-DNA but without hepatocyte HBcAg, and two patients (2.7%) who had detectable hepatocyte HBcAg but without serum HBV-DNA. Membranous staining of HBsAg associated with variable degrees of cytoplasmic HBsAg was found in all but one of 44 patients with serum HBV-DNA, irrespective of the levels, but in none of the 31 patients without serum HBV-DNA. Of the latter, HBsAg was distributed solely in the cytoplasm. In addition, there is an inverse correlation between serum levels of HBV-DNA and the degrees of cytoplasmic staining of HBsAg. The concordance between membranous staining fo HBsAg and serum HBV-DNA was 98.7% (74/75), significantly higher than that between hepatocyte HBcAG and serum HBV-DNA. CONCLUSIONS--Membranous staining of HBsAg on the hepatocyte correlated excellently with serum HBV-DNA and thus can be recognised as a sensitive and specific marker of active hepatitis B virus replication.
The hepatitis B virus (HBV) core (HBc) antigen (HBcAg) is a highly immunogenic subviral particle. Studies with mice have shown that HBcAg can bind and activate B cells in a T-cell-independent fashion. By using a human peripheral blood leukocyte (hu-PBL)-Nod/LtSz-Prkdcscid/Prkdcscid (NOD/SCID) mouse model, we show here that HBcAg also activates human B cells in vivo in a T-cell-independent way. HBcAg was capable of inducing the secretion of HBcAg-binding human immunoglobulin M (IgM) in naive human B cells derived from adult human and neonatal (cord blood) donors when these hu-PBL were transferred directly into the spleens of optimally conditioned NOD/SCID mice. No such responses were found in chimeric mice that were given hu-PBL plus HBV e antigen or hu-PBL plus phosphate-buffered saline. In addition, HBcAg activated purified human B cells to produce anti-HBc IgM in the chimeric mice, thus providing evidence that HBcAg behaves as a T-cell-independent antigen in humans. However, HBcAg-activated hu-PBL from naive donors were unable to switch from IgM to IgG production, even after a booster dose of HBcAg. Production of HBcAg-specific IgG could only be induced when hu-PBL from subjects who had recovered from or had an ongoing chronic HBV infection were transferred into NOD/SCID mice. Our data suggest that humans also have a population of naive B cells that can bind HBcAg and is subsequently activated to produce HBcAg-binding IgM.
The function of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) precore or HBeAg is largely unknown because it is not required for viral assembly, infection, or replication. However, the HBeAg does appear to play a role in viral persistence. It has been suggested that the HBeAg may promote HBV chronicity by functioning as an immunoregulatory protein. As a model of chronic HBeAg exposure and to examine the tolerogenic potential of the HBV precore and core (HBcAg) proteins, HBc/HBeAg-transgenic (Tg) mice crossed with T cell receptor (TCR)-Tg mice expressing receptors for the HBc/HBeAgs (i.e., TCR-antigen double-Tg pairs) were produced. This study revealed three phenotypes of HBe/HBcAg-specific T-cell tolerance: (i) profound T-cell tolerance most likely mediated by clonal deletion, (ii) T-cell clonal ignorance, and (iii) nondeletional T-cell tolerance mediated by clonal anergy and dependent on the structure, location, and concentration of the tolerogen. The secreted HBeAg is significantly more efficient than the intracellular HBcAg at eliciting T-cell tolerance. The split T-cell tolerance between the HBeAg and the HBcAg and the clonal heterogeneity of HBc/HBeAg-specific T-cell tolerance may have significant implications for natural HBV infection and especially for precore-negative chronic hepatitis.
To test a previously coined “charge balance hypothesis” of human hepatitis B virus (HBV) capsid stability, we established an in vitro disassembly and reassembly system using bacterially expressed HBV capsids. Capsid disassembly can be induced by micrococcal nuclease digestion of encapsidated RNA. HBV core protein (HBc) mutants containing various amounts of arginine were constructed by serial truncations at the C terminus. Capsids containing smaller amounts of arginine (HBc 149, 154, and 157) remained intact after micrococcal nuclease digestion by native gel electrophoresis. Capsids containing larger amounts of arginine (HBc 159, 164, 169, and 171) exhibited reduced and more diffuse banding intensity and slightly upshifted mobility (HBc 159 and 164). Capsids containing the largest amounts of arginine (HBc 173, 175, and 183), as well as HBc 167, exhibited no detectable banding signal, indicating loss of capsid integrity or stability. Interestingly, capsid reassembly can be induced by polyanions, including oligonucleotides, poly-glutamic acid, and nonbiological polymer (polyacrylic acid). In contrast, polycations (polylysine and polyethylenimine) and low-molecular-weight anions (inositol triphosphate) induced no capsid reassembly. Results obtained by gel assay were confirmed by electron microscopy. Reassembled capsids comigrated with undigested parental capsids on agarose gels and cosedimented with undigested capsids by sucrose gradient ultracentrifugation. Taken together, the results indicate that HBV capsid assembly and integrity depend on polyanions, which probably can help minimize intersubunit charge repulsion caused mainly by arginine-rich domain III or IV in close contact. The exact structure of polyanions is not important for in vitro capsid reassembly. A large amount of independent experimental evidence for this newly coined “electrostatic interaction hypothesis” is discussed.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) X protein (HBx) plays an essential role in viral replication and in the development of hepatocellular carcinoma. HBx has the ability to transactivate the expression of all HBV proteins, including the viral core protein HBc. Consistent with its regulatory role, HBx is relatively unstable and is present at low levels in the cell. We report here that the level of HBx was significantly reduced by the coexpression of HBc in cultured human hepatoma cells, whereas the level of HBx mRNA was unaffected. The repression of HBx by HBc was relieved by treating cells with the proteasome inhibitor MG132, indicating that HBc acts by stimulating the proteasome-mediated degradation of HBx. Moreover, the inhibitory effect of HBc was specific to HBx and did not affect other proteins, including p53, a known target of the proteasome. Although no direct physical interaction between HBc and HBx could be demonstrated, mutational analysis indicated that the C-terminal half of HBc is responsible for its inhibitory effect. These results suggest that HBc functions as a novel regulator of the HBV life cycle and of hepatocellular carcinogenesis through control of the HBx level via an inhibitory feedback type of mechanism.
The distribution and quantitative expression of HBcAg in relation to serum HBeAg and liver histology before and after a trial of interferon in 50 patients with chronic type B hepatitis were evaluated using polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies. In general, both antisera showed a similar pattern in terms of the distribution of HBcAg, with predominant localisation of HBcAg in the cytoplasm in HBeAg positive patients with chronic active hepatitis. Semiquantitative analysis showed, however, that there was a higher degree of cytoplasmic expression of HBcAg with polyclonal than with monoclonal anti-HBc. Some of the HBeAg positive patients with only a focal expression of HBcAg in the cytoplasm by polyclonal anti-HBc showed no expression of HBcAg with monoclonal anti-HBc. The expression of HBcAg with polyclonal anti-HBc correlated better with the histological features of chronic active hepatitis or the persistence of serum HBeAg on follow up, suggesting that it did not result from non-specific or false positive staining. All of the HBeAg negative patients with minimal histological changes or inactive cirrhosis were HBcAg negative with both antisera. In conclusion, though both polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies produced a quite similar distribution of HBcAg in patients with chronic type B hepatitis, polyclonal antibody seemed to be more sensitive in detecting HBcAg in the cytoplasm than did monoclonal anti-HBc, and the expression of HBcAg with polyclonal anti-HBc correlated better with the clinical and histological outcome.
Subcellular localizaton of HBcAg have been found to be related to the activity of liver disease and HBV replication. The aim of this study was to determine whether the degree of expression of HBcAg in the hepatocyte nucleus and cytoplasm reflects the level of viral replication and histological activity in chronic HBV infection. A total of 102 patients with biopsy proven chronic hepatitis B were included. There was a highly significant correlation between the levels of HBV DNA in serum and the degree of expression of HBcAg in the nucleus for HBeAg-positive(p=0.000) and negative patients(p=0.04). There was a highly significant, correlation between the degrees of expression of HBcAg in hepatocyte cytoplasm and histologic activities (p<0.01) for HBeAg-positive patients. The degrees of expression of HBcAg in the hepatocyte cytoplasm correlated positively with the lobular activities (p<0.01), but not correlated with the portal activity and fibrosis for HBeAg-negative patients. In conclusion, in the young patients with chronic B viral hepatitis, the degree of expression of HBcAg in the hepatocyte nucleus may affect viral load, and the degree of expression of HBcAg in the hepatocyte cytoplasm may affect histologic activities of liver disease.
Hepatitis B Core Antigen; Hepatitis Be Antigens; HBV DNA; Hepatitits B virus
Intrahepatic hepatitis B virus (HBV) core antigen (HBcAg) is a hallmark of viral replication in hepatitis B virus e antigen (HBeAg)-positive chronic hepatitis B (CHB). The aim of this study was to evaluate the role of HBcAg in HBeAg-negative CHB. One hundred six HBeAg-negative CHB patients who underwent ultrasonographically guided liver biopsy were reviewed for their HBV DNA load and clinical and histological data. Factors associated with the expression of intrahepatic HBcAg were analyzed. Among the patients, 35 (33%) were positive for HBcAg by immunohistostaining. In patients whose HBV DNA loads were higher than 107 copies (cp)/ml, nearly one-half (52%) had detectable HBcAg. Compared with HBcAg-negative patients, HBcAg-positive patients had higher serum alanine transaminase (ALT) and HBV DNA levels and more-severe hepatic necroinflammation. High serum ALT level (>160 U/liter) and HBV viral load were the determinants of HBcAg expression in multivariate analysis. Large amounts of HBcAg expression were frequently detected in patients with high DNA loads, and the patterns of HBcAg distribution were not related to histological activity or HBV DNA levels. In patients with lower HBV DNA loads, the expression of HBcAg was the key factor associated with active hepatic necroinflammation (hazard ratio = 11.25; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.42 to 89.26; P = 0.022). In conclusion, the expression of HBcAg is not frequent in HBeAg-negative CHB. The expression of intrahepatic HBcAg indicates active hepatic necroinflammation, even in patients with low HBV DNA load. Both HBV viral load and HBcAg expression have implications in the pathogenesis of HBeAg-negative CHB.
AIMS: To study the intrahepatic expression of hepatitis B virus (HBV) nucleocapsid antigen; and to determine the differential distribution of hepatitis B core and E antigens in chronic hepatitis B. METHODS: Hepatocyte expression of HBV nucleocapsid antigen was studied using rabbit anti-HBc, directed against both HBcAg and HBeAg; differential distribution of HBcAg and HBeAg was studied using murine monoclonal anti-HBc and anti-HBe in 120 patients with chronic hepatitis B. RESULTS: HBV nucleocapsid antigen was detected in 14 of 16 (87.5%) HBeAg seropositive patients with chronic persistent hepatitis (CPH), and in 54 of 64 (84.4%) HBeAg seropositive patients with chronic active hepatitis (CAH). Nuclear expression of nucleocapsid antigen was more prevalent in patients with CPH than in those with CAH; this was reversed in terms of exclusive cytoplasmic expression of nucleocapsid antigen (p < 0.05). Of 45 patients with nucleocapsid antigen in the nucleus, samples from 44 (97.8%) and 17 (37.8%) stained positively with monoclonal anti-HBc and anti-HBe, respectively. Of 65 patients with cytoplasmic nucleocapsid antigen, samples from 61 (93.8%) and 57 (87.7%) stained positively with monoclonal anti-HBc and anti-HBe, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: HBV nucleocapsid antigen is more prevalent in HBeAg positive patients with CPH than in those with CAH. Cellular expression of HBcAg and HBeAg in the cytoplasm is more or less the same; in the nucleus HBcAg exceeds HBeAg expression.
Precore and core proteins are two related co-carboxy-terminal proteins of hepatitis B virus. Precore protein contains the entire sequence of core protein plus an amino-terminal extension of 29 amino acid residues. Both proteins can display a common antigenic determinant known as core antigen (HBcAg). Clinically, HBcAg is detected in the nucleus, cytoplasm, or both of hepatitis B virus-infected hepatocytes. In order to understand the mechanism that regulates nuclear transport of HBcAg, various portions of precore and core proteins were linked to a reporter protein, human alpha-globin, and expressed in mammalian cells. Our results indicate that the precore protein-specific sequence, although important for nuclear transport, does not contain a nuclear localization signal. Instead, a signal for nuclear transport is located near the carboxy termini of precore and core proteins in the arginine-rich domain. This signal is made up of a set of two direct PRRRRSQS repeats and is highly conserved among mammalian hepadnaviruses.
The nucleocapsid (HBcAg) of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) has been suggested as a carrier moiety for vaccine purposes. We investigated the influence of the position of the inserted epitope within hybrid HBcAg particles on antigenicity and immunogenicity. For this purpose, genes coding for neutralizing epitopes of the pre-S region of the HBV envelope proteins were inserted at the amino terminus, the amino terminus through a precore linker sequence, the truncated carboxy terminus, or an internal site of HBcAg by genetic engineering and were expressed in Escherichia coli. All purified hybrid HBc/pre-S polyproteins were particulate. Amino- and carboxy-terminal-modified hybrid HBc particles retained HBcAg antigenicity and immunogenicity. In contrast, insertion of a pre-S(1) sequence between HBcAg residues 75 and 83 abrogated recognition of HBcAg by 5 of 6 anti-HBc monoclonal antibodies and diminished recognition by human polyclonal anti-HBc. Predictably, HBcAg-specific immunogenicity was also reduced. With respect to the inserted epitopes, a pre-S(1) epitope linked to the amino terminus of HBcAg was not surface accessible and not immunogenic. A pre-S(1) epitope fused to the amino terminus through a precore linker sequence was surface accessible and highly immunogenic. A carboxy-terminal-fused pre-S(2) sequence was also surface accessible but weakly immunogenic. Insertion of a pre-S(1) epitope at the internal site resulted in the most efficient anti-pre-S(1) antibody response. Furthermore, immunization with hybrid HBc/pre-S particles exclusively primed T-helper cells specific for HBcAg and not the inserted epitope. These results indicate that the position of the inserted B-cell epitope within HBcAg is critical to its immunogenicity.
The hepatitis B virus (HBV) nucleocapsid antigen (HBcAg) was investigated as a carrier moiety for the immunodominant circumsporozoite (CS) protein repeat epitopes of Plasmodium falciparum and the rodent malaria agent P. berghei. For this purpose hybrid genes coding for [NANP]4 (C75CS2) or [DP4NPN]2 (C75CS1) as internal inserts in HBcAg (between amino acids 75 and 81) were constructed and expressed in recombinant Salmonella typhimurium. The resulting hybrid HBcAg-CS polypeptides purified from S. typhimurium were particulate and displayed CS and HBc antigenicity, however, the HBc antigenicity was reduced compared to native recombinant HBcAg. Immunization of several mouse strains with HBcAg-CS1 and HBcAg-CS2 particles resulted in high titer, P.berghei- or P.falciparum-specific anti-CS antibodies representing all murine immunoglobulin G isotypes. The possible influence of carrier-specific immunosuppression was examined, and preexisting immunity to HBcAg did not significantly affect the immunogenicity of the CS epitopes within HBcAg-CS1 particles. Similarly, the choice of adjuvant did not significantly alter the immunogenicity of HBcAg-CS hybrid particles. Immunization in complete or incomplete Freund's adjuvant or alum resulted in equivalent anti-HBc and anti-CS humoral responses. Examination of T cell recognition of HBcAg-CS particles revealed that HBcAg-specific T cells were universally primed and CS-specific T cells were primed if the insert contained a CS-specific T cell recognition site. This indicates that the internal site in HBcAg is permissive for the inclusion of heterologous pathogen-specific T as well as B cell epitopes. Most importantly, 90 and 100% of BALB/c mice immunized with HBcAg-CS1 particles were protected against a P. berghei challenge infection in two independent experiments. Therefore, hybrid HBcAg-CS particles may represent a useful approach for future malaria vaccine development.
Instead of displaying the wild-type selective export of virions containing mature genomes, human hepatitis B virus (HBV) mutant I97L, changing from an isoleucine to a leucine at amino acid 97 of HBV core antigen (HBcAg), lost the high stringency of selectivity in genome maturity during virion export. To understand the structural basis of this so-called “immature secretion” phenomenon, we compared the stability and morphology of self-assembled capsid particles from the wild-type and mutant I97L HBV, in either full-length (HBcAg1-183) or truncated core protein contexts (HBcAg1-149 and HBcAg1-140). Using negative staining and electron microscopy, full-length particles appear as “thick-walled” spherical particles with little interior space, whereas truncated particles appear as “thin-walled” spherical particles with a much larger inner space. We found no significant differences in capsid stability between wild-type and mutant I97L particles under denaturing pH and temperature in either full-length or truncated core protein contexts. In general, HBV capsid particles (HBcAg1-183, HBcAg1-149, and HBcAg1-140) are very robust but will dissociate at pH 2 or 14, at temperatures higher than 75°C, or in 0.1% sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS). An unexpected upshift banding pattern of the SDS-treated full-length particles during agarose gel electrophoresis is most likely caused by disulfide bonding of the last cysteine of HBcAg. HBV capsids are known to exist in natural infection as dimorphic T=3 or T=4 icosahedral particles. No difference in the ratio between T=3 (78%) and T=4 particles (20.3%) are found between wild-type HBV and mutant I97L in the context of HBcAg1-140. In addition, we found no difference in capsid stability between T=3 and T=4 particles successfully separated by using a novel agarose gel electrophoresis procedure.