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J Virol. 2006 Jun;80(11):5465-73.

Lipid-mediated introduction of hepatitis B virus capsids into nonsusceptible cells allows highly efficient replication and facilitates the study of early infection events.

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  • 1Institute of Medical Virology, Justus Liebig University, Frankfurter Strasse 107, D-35392 Giessen, Germany.


The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is an enveloped DNA virus which is highly infectious in vivo. In vitro, only primary hepatocytes of humans and Tupaia belangeri or the novel HepaRG cell line are susceptible to HBV, but infection is inefficient and study of early infection events in single cells is unsatisfactory. Since hepatoma cells replicate the virus efficiently after transfection, this limited infection efficiency must be related to the initial entry phase. Here, we describe the lipid-based delivery of HBV capsids into nonsusceptible cells, circumventing the natural entry pathway. Successful infection was monitored by observing the emergence of the nuclear viral covalently closed circular DNA and the production of progeny virus and subviral particles. Lipid-mediated transfer initiated productive infection that was at least 100-fold more effective than infection of permissive cell cultures. High-dose capsid transfer showed that the uptake was not receptor limited and allowed the intracellular transport of capsids and genomes to be examined microscopically. The addition of inhibitors confirmed an entry pathway by fusion of the lipid with the plasma membrane. By indirect immune fluorescence and native fluorescence in situ hybridization, we followed the pathway of capsids and viral genomes in individual cells. We observed an active microtubule-dependent capsid transfer to the nucleus and a subsequent release of the viral genomes exclusively into the karyoplasm. Lipid-mediated transfer of viral capsids thus appears to allow efficient introduction of genetic information into target cells, facilitating studies of early infection events which are otherwise impeded by the small number of viruses entering the cell.

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