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.
Background & Aims
The correlation between chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has been well-established. But the roles of viral factor remain uncertain. Only HBV X gene and nonsense mutations of S gene (C-terminal truncation of HBV surface protein) have been demonstrated to have transforming activity. Whether they play a significant role in hepatocarcinogenesis is still uncertain.
Twenty-five HBV-related HCC patients were positive for hepatitis B core antigen (HBcAg) in the cancerous parts of their HCC liver tissues by immunohistochemistry studies, and had available tissue for whole HBV genome sequence analysis. The results were compared with 25 gender and age-matched HBcAg negative HCCs. Plasmids encoding HBV S gene nonsense mutations identified from HBcAg (+) HCC tissue were constructed to investigate their cell proliferation, transformation activity and the oncogenic potentials by xenograft study and in vivo migration assay.
HBcAg (+) HCC patients were significantly associated with cirrhosis and small tumor size (≦2 cm) when compared with HBcAg (−) HCC patients. Southern blot analyses revealed freely replicative forms of HBV in the cancerous parts of HBcAg(+) HCC. Three nonsense mutations of S gene (sL95*, sW182*, and sL216*) were identified in the HBcAg(+) HCC tumor tissues. sW182* and sL216* were recurrently found in the 25 HBcAg (−) HCC tumor tissue, too. Functional studies of the above 3 non-sense mutations all demonstrated higher cell proliferation activities and transformation abilities than wild type S, especially sW182*. Tumorigenicity analysis by xenograft experiments and in vitro migration assay showed potent oncogenic activity of sW182* mutant.
This study has demonstrated potent oncogenic activity of nonsense mutations of HBV S gene, suggesting they may play an important role in hepatocarcinogenesis.
AIM: To identify blood donors with occult hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection (OBI) to promote safe blood donation.
METHODS: Descriptive cross sectional study was conducted on 3167 blood donors negative for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), hepatitis C antibody (HCV Ab) and human immunodeficiency virus Ab. They were subjected to the detection of alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate transaminase (AST) and screening for anti-HBV core antibodies (total) by two different techniques; [Monoliza antibodies to hepatitis B core (Anti-HBc) Plus-Bio-Rad] and (ARC-HBc total-ABBOT). Positive samples were subjected to quantitative detection of antibodies to hepatitis B surface (anti-HBs) (ETI-AB-AUK-3, Dia Sorin-Italy). Serum anti-HBs titers > 10 IU/L was considered positive. Quantitative HBV DNA by real time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) (QIAGEN-Germany) with 3.8 IU/mL detection limit was estimated for blood units with negative serum anti-HBs and also for 32 whose anti-HBs serum titers were > 1000 IU/L. Also, 265 recipients were included, 34 of whom were followed up for 3-6 mo. Recipients were investigated for ALT and AST, HBV serological markers: HBsAg (ETI-MAK-4, Dia Sorin-Italy), anti-HBc, quantitative detection of anti-HBs and HBV-DNA.
RESULTS: 525/3167 (16.6%) of blood units were positive for total anti-HBc, 64% of those were anti-HBs positive. Confirmation by ARCHITECT anti-HBc assay were carried out for 498/525 anti-HBc positive samples, where 451 (90.6%) confirmed positive. Reactivity for anti-HBc was considered confirmed only if two positive results were obtained for each sample, giving an overall prevalence of 451/3167 (14.2%) for total anti-HBc. HBV DNA was quantified by real time PCR in 52/303 (17.2%) of anti-HBc positive blood donors (viral load range: 5 to 3.5 x 105 IU/mL) with a median of 200 IU/mL (mean: 1.8 x 104 ± 5.1 x 104 IU/mL). Anti-HBc was the only marker in 68.6% of donors. Univariate and multivariate logistic analysis for identifying risk factors associated with anti-HBc and HBV-DNA positivity among blood donors showed that age above thirty and marriage were the most significant risk factors for prediction of anti-HBc positivity with AOR 1.8 (1.4-2.4) and 1.4 (1.0-1.9) respectively. Other risk factors as gender, history of blood transfusion, diabetes mellitus, frequent injections, tattooing, previous surgery, hospitalization, Bilharziasis or positive family history of HBV or HCV infections were not found to be associated with positive anti-HBc antibodies. Among anti-HBc positive blood donors, age below thirty was the most significant risk factor for prediction of HBV-DNA positivity with AOR 3.8 (1.8-7.9). According to HBV-DNA concentration, positive samples were divided in two groups; group one with HBV-DNA ≥ 200 IU/mL (n = 27) and group two with HBV-DNA < 200 IU/mL (n = 26). No significant difference was detected between both groups as regards mean age, gender, liver enzymes or HBV markers. Serological profiles of all followed up blood recipients showed that, all were negative for the studied HBV markers. Also, HBV DNA was not detected among studied recipients, none developed post-transfusion hepatitis (PTH) and the clinical outcome was good.
CONCLUSION: OBI is prevalent among blood donors. Nucleic acid amplification/HBV anti core screening should be considered for high risk recipients to eliminate risk of unsafe blood donation.
Hepatitis B virus; Total anti-HBc; Occult hepatitis B virus infection; Hepatitis B surface antigen; Hepatitis B virus-DNA
The rise of multidrug-resistant (MDR) pathogens causes an increasing challenge to public health. Antimicrobial peptides are considered a possible solution to this problem. HBV core protein (HBc) contains an arginine-rich domain (ARD) at its C-terminus, which consists of 16 arginine residues separated into four clusters (ARD I to IV). In this study, we demonstrated that the peptide containing the full-length ARD I–IV (HBc147-183) has a broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity at micro-molar concentrations, including some MDR and colistin (polymyxin E)-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii. Furthermore, confocal fluorescence microscopy and SYTOX Green uptake assay indicated that this peptide killed Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria by membrane permeabilization or DNA binding. In addition, peptide ARD II–IV (HBc153-176) and ARD I–III (HBc147-167) were found to be necessary and sufficient for the activity against P. aeruginosa and K. peumoniae. The antimicrobial activity of HBc ARD peptides can be attenuated by the addition of LPS. HBc ARD peptide was shown to be capable of direct binding to the Lipid A of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in several in vitro binding assays. Peptide ARD I–IV (HBc147-183) had no detectable cytotoxicity in various tissue culture systems and a mouse animal model. In the mouse model by intraperitoneal (i.p.) inoculation with Staphylococcus aureus, timely treatment by i.p. injection with ARD peptide resulted in 100-fold reduction of bacteria load in blood, liver and spleen, as well as 100% protection of inoculated animals from death. If peptide was injected when bacterial load in the blood reached its peak, the protection rate dropped to 40%. Similar results were observed in K. peumoniae using an IVIS imaging system. The finding of anti-microbial HBc ARD is discussed in the context of commensal gut microbiota, development of intrahepatic anti-viral immunity and establishment of chronic infection with HBV. Our current results suggested that HBc ARD could be a new promising antimicrobial peptide.
Antibiotics-resistant pathogens have been a major problem to our public health. Recently, in our studies of human hepatitis B virus (HBV), we accidentally discovered potent and broad spectrum antimicrobial peptides from HBV core protein (HBc) arginine-rich domain (ARD). The peptides are mainly composed of SPRRR repeats and are effective against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, as well as fungi. We found different bactericidal mechanisms of the ARD peptides, which involved LPS binding, DNA binding and membrane permeabilization in various tested bacteria, such as P. aeruginosa, K. pneumoniae, E. coli and S. aureus. We also found that this ARD peptide was effective for colistin-resistant A. baumannii. The peptides exhibited no hemolysis activity to human red blood cells and no cytotoxicity to human hepatoma cells and kidney cells. Furthermore, the ARD peptide was shown to be safe and protective in the animal model. Recently, intestinal flora was found to influence the development of immunity. We discussed here the potential involvement of the antimicrobial activity of HBc ARD in the establishment of HBV chronic infection in the newborns. We proposed here that the HBc ARD peptides could serve as an alternative to the conventional antibiotics in clinical medicine.
Nearly 350 million persons worldwide are chronically infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV). Ubiquitin (Ub) is a highly conserved small regulatory protein, ubiquitous in eukaryotes, that usually serves as a signal for the target protein that is recognised and degraded in proteasomes . The Ub-mediated processing of antigens is rapid and efficient and stimulates cell-mediated immune responses. Accordingly, Ub-mediated processing of antigens has been widely used in chronic-infection and cancer studies to improve immune response.
Many clinical trials have shown that DNA vaccine potency needs to be greatly enhanced. Here, we report a new strategy for designing an HBV DNA vaccine using the ubiquitin (Ub) sequence. The aim of this study was to investigate a novel DNA vaccination, based on the expression of HBV core antigen (HBcAg), fused to Ub to enhance DNA vaccine potency.
Materials and Methods
Mouse ubiquitin fused to the HBcAg gene and cloned into the eukaryotic vector pcDNA3.1 (-). BALB/c mice were immunized with recombinant pUb-HBcAg or pHBcAg DNA vaccine. Lymphocyte proliferation assay, intracellular IFN-γ assay, CTL cytotoxicity assay, and antibody assay were performed to analyze the cellular and humoral immune responses to our DNA constructs.
HBcAg was expressed effectively in the COS-7 cells that were transiently transfected with pUb-HBcAg. Strong anti-HBc IgG responses were elicited in mice that were immunized with pUb-HBcAg. The endpoint titers of anti-HBc peaked at 1:656100 on the 42nd day after the third immunization. pUb-HBcAg stimulated greater lymphocyte proliferation and induced higher levels of IL-2 and IFN-γ and a greater percentage of HBcAg-specific CD8+ T cells in mice than pHBcAg. In the CTL assay, the specific lysis rate reached 56.5% at an effector:target ratio of 50:1 in mice that were immunized with pUb-HBcAg.
pUb-HBcAg elicits specific anti-HBc responses and induces HBc-specific CTL responses in immunized BALB/c mice. Our results imply that Ub can be used as a molecular adjuvant that enhances the potency of DNA vaccines.
DNA vaccine; Ubiquitin; Hepatitis B core antigen
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.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) core antigen (HBcAg)-specific CD4+ T-cell responses are believed to play an important role in the control of human HBV infection. In the present study, HBcAg-specific, HLA-DR13*-restricted CD4+ Th1-type T-cell clones were generated which secreted both gamma interferon and tumor necrosis factor alpha after in vitro antigen stimulation. These HBcAg-specific CD4+ Th1-type T cells were able to lyse HBc peptide-loaded Epstein-Barr virus-transformed lymphoblastoid target cells in vitro. To examine whether these HLA-DR13*-restricted human CD4+ Th1 T cells also display the same cytotoxic effects in vivo, we transferred peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL) derived from HBV-infected donors or an HBV-naïve donor sharing the DR13*, together with the HBcAg-specific CD4+ Th1-type T cells and HBcAg, directly into the spleen of optimally conditioned Nod/LtSz-Prkdcscid/Prkdcscid (NOD/SCID) mice. The production of both secondary anti-HBc-immunoglobulin G (anti-HBc-IgG) and primary HBcAg-binding IgM in hu-PBL-NOD/SCID mice was drastically inhibited by HBcAg-specific CD4+ Th1-type T cells. No inhibition was observed when CD4+ Th1 cells and donor PBL did not share an HLA-DR13. These results suggest that HBcAg-specific CD4+ Th1 T cells may be able to lyse HBcAg-binding, or -specific, B cells that have taken up and presented HBcAg in a class II-restricted manner. Thus, HBcAg-specific CD4+ Th1-type T cells can modulate the function and exert a regulatory role in deleting HBcAg-binding, or -specific, human B cells in vivo, which may be of importance in controlling the infection.
HBV-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) activity is believed to play a critical role in controlling HBV infection. The phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt signaling pathway manipulates cell fate decisions in many different cell types by regulating the activity of downstream effectors. We have previously testified that the fusion protein of CTP-HBcAg18-27--Tapasin could enter the cytoplasm of dendritic cells and efficiently induce robust specific CTL response in vitro.
In the present study, we evaluated specific CTL response and the level of apoptosis of CD8+ T cells induced by CTP-HBcAg18-27-Tapasin in HLA-A2 transgenic mice (H-2Kb). Meanwhile, we preliminary investigated PI3K, phosphorylation level of Akt, and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) as positive regulator of the magnitude and effector function of the hepatitis B virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes in HLA-A2 transgenic mice.
Materials and Methods:
HLA-A2 transgenic mice were immunized by intramuscular injection in the hind legs three times at one-week intervals with PBS, CTP-HBcAg18-27-Tapasin (50 μg), CTP-HBcAg18-27 (50 μg), HBcAg18-27-Tapasin (50 μg), and HBcAg18-27 (50 μg). One week after the last immunization, mice were sacrificed and splenocytes were harvested in strile condition. The specific CTL response was analyzed by flow cytometry and enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA); the expression of (PI3K)/Akt signaling was detected by RT-PCR and western blot.
The results showed that CTP-HBcAg18-27-Tapasin significantly increased the percentages of IFN-γ+ CD8α+ T cells, the numbers of these polyfunctional triple-cytokine-producing (IFN-γ, TNF-α, and IL-2) CD8+T cells, the secretion of cytokine IFN-γ, IL-2, and TNF-α, while in comparison to control group, it significantly decreased the percentage of apoptotic CD8+ T cells in HLA-A2 transgenic mice. Moreover, the expression of PI3K, P-Akt, and P-mTOR was significantly upregulated in CTP-HBcAg18-27-Tapasin group compared with control groups.
In conclusion, CTP-HBcAg18-27-Tapasin could reduce apoptosis of CD8+ T cells, increase the percentages of IFN-γ+ CD8α+ T cells, and elicit cell-mediated immunity in HLA-A2 transgenic mice; these processes were associated with activation of the PI3K/Akt signaling pathway.
Tapasin; Mice, Transgenic; T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic; PI3K/Akt
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
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.
Among hepatitis B (HB) surface antigen–negative/human immunodeficiency virus–infected pregnant women in Thailand, 14% had isolated antibody to HB core antigen (anti-HBc); of whom 24% had occult HB virus (HBV) infection with low HBV DNA levels. None transmitted HBV to their infants.
Background. Prevalence and risk factors for isolated antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc) and occult hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection are not well known in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)–infected pregnant women. It is unclear if women with occult infections are at risk of transmitting HBV to their infants.
Methods. HIV-1–infected and HBV surface antigen (HBsAg)–negative pregnant women were tested for antibody to HBsAg (anti-HBs) and anti-HBc using enzyme immunoassay. Women with isolated anti-HBc were assessed for occult HBV infection, defined as HBV DNA levels >15 IU/mL, using the Abbott RealTime HBV DNA assay. Infants born to women with isolated anti-HBc and detectable HBV DNA were tested at 4 months of age for HBV DNA. Logistic regression analysis was used to identify factors associated with isolated anti-HBc and occult HBV infection.
Results. Among 1812 HIV-infected pregnant women, 1682 were HBsAg negative. Fourteen percent (95% confidence interval [CI], 12%–15%) of HBsAg-negative women had an isolated anti-HBc that was independently associated with low CD4 count, age >35 years, birth in northern Thailand, and positive anti–hepatitis C virus serology. Occult HBV infection was identified in 24% (95% CI, 18%–30%) of women with isolated anti-HBc, representing 2.6% (95% CI, 1.9%–3.5%) of HIV-1–infected pregnant women, and was inversely associated with HIV RNA levels. None of the women with isolated anti-HBc and occult HBV infection transmitted HBV to their infants.
Conclusions. HIV-1–infected pregnant women with isolated anti-HBc and occult HBV infection have very low HBV DNA levels and are thus at very low risk to transmit HBV to their infants.
HIV-1–infected pregnant women; isolated anti-HBc; occult HBV infection; perinatal transmission
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.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA replication occurs within the HBV icosahedral core particles. HBV core protein (HBc) contains an arginine-rich domain (ARD) at its carboxyl terminus. This ARD domain of HBc 149-183 is known to be important for viral replication but not known to have a structure. Recently, nucleocapsid proteins of several viruses have been shown to contain nucleic acid chaperone activity, which can facilitate structural rearrangement of viral genome. Major features of nucleic acid chaperones include highly basic amino acid residues and flexible protein structure. To test the nucleic acid chaperone hypothesis for HBc ARD, we first used the disassembled full-length HBc from Escherichia coli to analyze the nucleic acid annealing and strand displacement activities. To exclude the potential contamination of chaperones from E. coli, we designed synthetic HBc ARD peptides with different lengths and serine phosphorylations. We demonstrated that HBc ARD peptide can behave like a bona fide nucleic acid chaperone and that the chaperone activity depends on basic residues of the ARD domain. The loss of chaperone activity by arginine-to-alanine substitutions in the ARD can be rescued by restoring basic residues in the ARD. Furthermore, the chaperone activity is subject to regulation by phosphorylation and dephosphorylation at the HBc ARD. Interestingly, the HBc ARD can enhance in vitro cleavage activity of RNA substrate by a hammerhead ribozyme. We discuss here the potential significance of the HBc ARD chaperone activity in the context of viral DNA replication, in particular, at the steps of primer translocations and circularization of linear replicative intermediates.
IMPORTANCE Hepatitis B virus is a major human pathogen. At present, no effective treatment can completely eradicate the virus from patients with chronic hepatitis B. We report here a novel chaperone activity associated with the viral core protein. Our discovery could lead to a new drug design for more effective treatment against hepatitis B virus in the future.
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.
It remains unclear what determines the subcellular localization of hepatitis B virus (HBV) core protein (HBc) and particles. To address this fundamental issue, we have identified four distinct HBc localization signals in the arginine rich domain (ARD) of HBc, using immunofluorescence confocal microscopy and fractionation/Western blot analysis. ARD consists of four tight clustering arginine-rich subdomains. ARD-I and ARD-III are associated with two co-dependent nuclear localization signals (NLS), while ARD-II and ARD-IV behave like two independent nuclear export signals (NES). This conclusion is based on five independent lines of experimental evidence: i) Using an HBV replication system in hepatoma cells, we demonstrated in a double-blind manner that only the HBc of mutant ARD-II+IV, among a total of 15 ARD mutants, can predominantly localize to the nucleus. ii) These results were confirmed using a chimera reporter system by placing mutant or wild type HBc trafficking signals in the heterologous context of SV40 large T antigen (LT). iii) By a heterokaryon or homokaryon analysis, the fusion protein of SV40 LT-HBc ARD appeared to transport from nuclei of transfected donor cells to nuclei of recipient cells, suggesting the existence of an NES in HBc ARD. This putative NES is leptomycin B resistant. iv) We demonstrated by co-immunoprecipitation that HBc ARD can physically interact with a cellular factor TAP/NXF1 (Tip-associated protein/nuclear export factor-1), which is known to be important for nuclear export of mRNA and proteins. Treatment with a TAP-specific siRNA strikingly shifted cytoplasmic HBc to nucleus, and led to a near 7-fold reduction of viral replication, and a near 10-fold reduction in HBsAg secretion. v) HBc of mutant ARD-II+IV was accumulated predominantly in the nucleus in a mouse model by hydrodynamic delivery. In addition to the revised map of NLS, our results suggest that HBc could shuttle rapidly between nucleus and cytoplasm via a novel TAP-dependent NES.
Chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) could lead to cirrhosis and highly malignant liver cancer. At present, treatment of hepatitis B is not very effective, due to notorious side effects and drug resistance. The virus can synthesize a core protein for its own replication. Clinically, this core protein tends to be more localized to the cytoplasm when patients' disease is severe, and more localized to the nucleus when the disease is mild. To date, the rules that govern the partition of the intracellular core protein into nucleus vs. cytoplasm remain unclear. Using 5 independent approaches, we identified the “entry passport” (nuclear localization signal) for the core protein to enter the nucleus. Surprisingly, we also encountered an unexpected “exit passport” (nuclear export signal) for the core protein to exit the nucleus. A host factor coined TAP can serve as a shuttling bus, which can take passengers like the core protein by its ticket (exit passport), and assist it to leave the nucleus. We proposed that this core protein does not “park” in the cytoplasm. Rather, it is shuttling continuously between nucleus and cytoplasm, in order to amplify viral DNA. When we reduced the TAP protein, HBV replication was dramatically reduced. Our finding could facilitate drug discovery against hepatitis B.
A quantitation procedure for hepatitis B core antigen (HBcAg) in serum without prior removal of antibodies to HBcAg is described. The virus nucleoprotein core was released from hepatitis B virus (HBV) particles by treatment with Nonidet P-40 detergent and allowed to form immune complexes with homologous antibodies to HBcAg present in the sera of HBV-infected individuals. After precipitation with 2.0% polyethylene glycol-1.5% Tween 20, the HBcAg immune complexes were dissociated by treatment with 3 M KSCN and then adsorbed onto polystyrene beads in the presence of the SCN- ions. Thereby, HBcAg and antibodies to HBcAg were linked independently of each other to the matrix, and the core antigen could be quantitated directly by incubation of the beads with 125I-labeled anti-HBc. Even in the presence of an excess of antibodies to HBcAg in the polyethylene glycol precipitates, HBcAg could be detected without appreciably affecting the sensitivity. The assay proved to be specific for core determinants and exhibited excellent reproducibility. The application of the HBcAg assay in 185 hepatitis B e antigen-positive sera revealed HBc antigenemia in 99% of the sera containing hepatitis B e antigen at titers of greater than or equal to 1:256 and 43% of the sera with lower hepatitis B e antigen levels. However, only in 6 of the 34 HBcAg-negative sera could HBV DNA be detected by blot hybridization. When correlated with HBV-associated DNA polymerase (DNAP) activity, HBc antigenemia was found in all DNAP-positive sera (n = 95) and in 39% of the hepatitis B e antigen-positive sera without detectable DNAP activity (n = 44). Of the DNAP-negative sera with HBc antigenemia, 94% contained HBV DNA, whereas in the absence of HBcAg, HBV DNA could be detected only in 3 of 27 DNAP-negative sera. With regard to sensitivity, the HBcAg assay appeared to be less sensitive than the hybridization technique, but more sensitive than the DNAP assay.
Several studies have demonstrated that cytokine-mediated noncytopathic suppression of hepatitis B virus (HBV) replication may provide an alternative therapeutic strategy for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B infection. In our previous study, we showed that transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-β1) could effectively suppress HBV replication at physiological concentrations. Here, we provide more evidence that TGF-β1 specifically diminishes HBV core promoter activity, which subsequently results in a reduction in the level of viral pregenomic RNA (pgRNA), core protein (HBc), nucleocapsid, and consequently suppresses HBV replication. The hepatocyte nuclear factor 4alpha (HNF-4α) binding element(s) within the HBV core promoter region was characterized to be responsive for the inhibitory effect of TGF-β1 on HBV regulation. Furthermore, we found that TGF-β1 treatment significantly repressed HNF-4α expression at both mRNA and protein levels. We demonstrated that RNAi-mediated depletion of HNF-4α was sufficient to reduce HBc synthesis as TGF-β1 did. Prevention of HNF-4α degradation by treating with proteasome inhibitor MG132 also prevented the inhibitory effect of TGF-β1. Finally, we confirmed that HBV replication could be rescued by ectopic expression of HNF-4α in TGF-β1-treated cells. Our data clarify the mechanism by which TGF-β1 suppresses HBV replication, primarily through modulating the expression of HNF-4α gene.
We have recently developed the technology to identify and characterize the human histocompatibility leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I- restricted, CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response to hepatitis B virus (HBV)-encoded antigens in patients with acute viral hepatitis. CTL are expanded in vitro by stimulation with HBV-derived synthetic peptides and selected by restimulation with a panel of HLA-matched stable transfectants that express the corresponding HBV protein. We have recently reported the existence of an HLA-A2-restricted, CD8+ CTL response to an epitope located between residues 18 and 27 of the HBV nucleocapsid core antigen (HBcAg). We now report the discovery of a CTL epitope located between HBcAg residues 141 and 151 that completely overlaps a critical domain in the viral nucleocapsid protein that is essential for its nuclear localization and genome packaging functions as well as processing of the precore protein. The CTL response to this epitope is dually restricted by the HLA-A31 and HLA-Aw68 alleles, which, unexpectedly, appear to use a common binding motif based on the results of alanine substitution and competition analysis, and the binding properties of these two alleles predicted from their known primary sequence, and from the three-dimensional structure of HLA-Aw68. We have also demonstrated that the HBV-specific CTL response to this epitope is polyclonal during acute viral hepatitis, since these two restriction elements can present the HBcAg 141-151 epitope to independent CTL clones derived from a single patient; and that the CTL response is multispecific, since HLA-A2-restricted and HLA-Aw68- restricted CTL responses to HBcAg 18-27 and HBcAg 141-151, respectively, have been identified to coexist in another patient. The foregoing argue against the emergence of CTL escape mutants as a significant problem during HBV infection, especially at this locus, where mutations might be incompatible with viral replication. Finally, our data suggest an association between the HBV-specific CTL response and viral clearance, and they have implications for the design of immunotherapeutic strategies to terminate HBV infection in chronically infected patients.
IL-23 regulates myriad processes in the innate and adaptive immune systems, and is a critical mediator of the proinflammatory effects exerted by Th17 cells in many diseases. In this study, we investigated whether and how hepatitis B virus (HBV) causes liver damage directly through the IL-23 signaling pathway. In biopsied liver tissues from HBV-infected patients, expression of both IL-23 and IL-23R was remarkably elevated. In vivo observations also indicated that the main sources of IL-23 were myeloid dendritic cells (mDCs) and macrophages. Analysis of in vitro differentiated immature DCs and macrophages isolated from healthy donors revealed that the HBV surface antigen (HBsAg) efficiently induces IL-23 secretion in a mannose receptor (MR)-dependent manner. Culture with an endosomal acidification inhibitor and the dynamin inhibitor showed that, upon binding to the MR, the HBsAg is taken up by mDCs and macrophages through an endocytosis mechanism. In contrast, although the HBV core antigen (HBcAg) can also stimulate IL-23 secretion from mDCs, the process was MR- and endocytosis-independent. In addition, IL-23 was shown to be indispensible for HBsAg-stimulated differentiation of naïve CD4+ T cells into Th17 cells, which were determined to be the primary source of IL-17 in HBV-infected livers. The cognate receptor, IL-17R, was found to exist on the hepatic stellate cells and mDCs, both of which might represent the potential target cells of IL-17 in hepatitis B disease. These data provide novel insights into a yet unrecognized mechanism of HBV-induced hepatitis, by which increases in IL-23 expression, through an MR/endocytosis-dependent or -independent manner, produce liver damage through the IL-23/IL-17 axis.
While it is known that IL-23 plays a pivotal role in maintenance of the Th17 phenotype and their production of the IL-17 cytokine, the mechanisms by which HBV induces particular immune cell types to produce IL-23 remain unknown. In the study of human hepatitis B described herein, we demonstrated that IL-23 is principally derived from the liver myeloid dendritic cells (mDCs) and macrophages. In vitro assay showed that mDCs produce large amounts of IL-23 upon stimulation with HBV surface antigen (HBsAg) through the mannose receptor (MR) and an endocytosis mechanism. In contrast, although the HBV core antigen (HBcAg) was also capable of stimulating IL-23 secretion from mDCs, the process occurs in an MR- and endocytosis-independent manner. IL-23 was also shown to efficiently stimulate the differentiation of naïve CD4+ T cells into Th17 cells in the presence of HBsAg or HBcAg; furthermore, the Th17 cells were shown to be the primary source of IL-17. The results also indicated that both hepatic satellite cells and mDCs might be the potential target cells of IL-17 in hepatitis B disease. Therefore, our study not only provides further insights into the mechanisms underlying HBV pathogenesis, but also suggests the potential intervening targets for patient treatment.
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.
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.
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 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.
AIM: To investigate characteristics of hepatitis B virus (HBV) implicated in HBV reactivation in patients with hematological malignancies receiving immunosuppressive therapy.
METHODS: Serum samples were collected from 53 patients with hematological malignancies negative for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) before the start of and throughout the chemotherapy course. HBV reactivation was diagnosed when the HBsAg status changed from negative to positive after the initiation of chemotherapy and/or when HBV DNA was detected by real-time detection polymerase chain reaction (RTD-PCR). For detecting the serological markers of HBV infection, HBsAg as well as antibodies to the core antigen (anti-HBc) and to the surface antigen were measured in the sera by CEIA. Nucleic acids were extracted from sera, and HBV DNA sequences spanning the S gene were amplified by RTD-PCR. The extracted DNA was further subjected to PCR to amplify the complete genome as well as the specific genomic sequences bearing the enhancer II/core promoter/pre-core/core regions (nt 1628-2364). Amplicons were sequenced directly.
RESULTS: Thirty-five (66%) of the 53 HBsAg-negative patients were found to be negative serologically for anti-HBc, and the remaining 18 (34%) patients were positive for anti-HBc. Five of the 53 (9.4%) patients with hematologic malignancies experienced HBV reactivation. Genotype D1 was detected in all five patients. Four types of mutant strains were detected in the S gene product of HBV strains and were isolated from 3 patients with HBV reactivation: T/S120, L143, and I126. HBV DNA was detected in the pretreatment HBsAg-negative samples in one of the five patients with HBV reactivation. In this patient, sequences encompassing the HBV full genome obtained from sera before the start of chemotherapy and at the time of de novo HBV hepatitis were detected and it showed 100% homology. Furthermore, in the phylogenetic tree, the sequences were clustered together, thereby indicating that this patient developed reactivation from an occult HBV infection.
CONCLUSION: Past infection with HBV is a risk factor for HBV reactivation in Egypt. Mandatory anti-HBc screening prior to chemotherapy in patients with hematological malignancies is recommended.
Hepatitis B virus; Occult infection; Reactivation; Hepatitis B surface antigen
The role of MCP1-2518 A/G in hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is controversial. Our aim was to evaluate the frequency distribution of MCP1-2518 A/G (rs1024611) polymorphic variants in hemodialysis (HD) patients without or with type 2 diabetes in relation to serological markers of HBV infection.
HD patients (n=170, 48 with diagnosis of type 2 diabetes), who tested positive for total antibodies to HBV core antigen (anti-HBc), underwent MCP1 genotyping using polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism assay. Anti-HBc was accompanied by antibodies to HBV surface antigen (anti-HBs) in 127 individuals. In anti-HBc-positive/anti-HBs-negative patients, HBV surface antigen (HBsAg) was shown in 15 patients and isolated anti-HBc were present in 28 patients. The distribution of MCP1 genotypes in anti-HBc-positive patients was compared to that in healthy subjects (n=437) and anti-HBc-negative HD patients (n=754).
There were no significant differences (Ptrend >0.05) in distribution of MCP1 genotypes between anti-HBc-positive patients, anti-HBc-negative subjects, and controls, regardless of anti-HBs or diabetic status. The MCP1-2518G allele prevalence was higher in HBsAg-positive/anti-HBs-negative patients defined as HBV carriers compared to MCP1-2518G allele frequency shown in groups composed of HBsAg-negative HD individuals and controls (50% vs. 28%, Ptrend 0.022).
A frequency distribution of MCP1 polymorphic variants is not associated with anti-HBs development in response to HBV infection in HD patients, independent of diabetic status, but the MCP1-2518G allele may predispose to HBsAg persistence (HBV carrier status).
Chemokine CCL2; Diabetes Complications; Dialysis; Hepatitis B Antibodies; Polymorphism; Genetic