Relative Abundance of Integrant-Derived Viral RNAs in Infected Tissues Harvested from Chronic Hepatitis B Virus Carriers.J Virol. 2018 05 15; 92(10)JV
Five matching sets of nonmalignant liver tissues and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) samples from individuals chronically infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV) were examined. The HBV genomic sequences were determined by using overlapping PCR amplicons covering the entire viral genome. Four pairs of tissues were infected with HBV genotype C, while one pair was infected with HBV genotype B. HBV replication markers were found in all tissues. In the majority of HCC samples, the levels of pregenomic/precore RNA (pgRNA) and covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) were lower than those in liver tissue counterparts. Regardless of the presence of HBV replication markers, (i) integrant-derived HBV RNAs (id-RNAs) were found in all tissues by reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) analysis and were considerably abundant or predominant in 6/10 tissue samples (2 liver and 4 HCC samples), (ii) RNAs that were polyadenylated using the cryptic HBV polyadenylation signal and therefore could be produced by HBV replication or derived from integrated HBV DNA were found in 5/10 samples (3 liver and 2 HCC samples) and were considerably abundant species in 3/10 tissues (2 livers and 1 HCC), and (iii) cccDNA-transcribed RNAs polyadenylated near position 1931 were not abundant in 7/10 tissues (2 liver and 5 HCC samples) and were predominant in only two liver samples. Subsequent RNA sequencing analysis of selected liver/HCC samples also showed relative abundance of id-RNAs in most of the examined tissues. Our findings suggesting that id-RNAs could represent a significant source of HBV envelope proteins, which is independent of viral replication, are discussed in the context of the possible contribution of id-RNAs to the HBV life cycle.IMPORTANCE The relative abundance of integrant-derived HBV RNAs (id-RNAs) in chronically infected tissues suggest that id-RNAs coding for the envelope proteins may facilitate the production of a considerable fraction of surface antigens (HBsAg) in infected cells bearing HBV integrants. If the same cells support HBV replication, then a significant fraction of assembled HBV virions could bear id-RNA-derived HBsAg as a major component of their envelopes. Therefore, the infectivity of these HBV virions and their ability to facilitate virus cell-to-cell spread could be determined mainly by the properties of id-RNA-derived envelope proteins and not by the properties of replication-derived HBsAg. These interpretations suggest that id-RNAs may play a role in the maintenance of chronic HBV infection and therefore contribute to the HBV life cycle. Furthermore, the production of HBsAg from id-RNAs independently of viral replication may explain at least in part why treatment with interferon or nucleos(t)ides in most cases fails to achieve a loss of serum HBsAg.