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J Virol. 1996 Aug;70(8):5246-54.

Woodchuck hepatitis virus X protein is present in chronically infected woodchuck liver and woodchuck hepatocellular carcinomas which are permissive for viral replication.

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  • 1Marion Bessin Liver Research Center, Department of Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10461, USA.


The woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) X gene (WHx) is required for infectivity of WHV in woodchucks, and the gene encodes a broadly acting transcription factor. Several lines of evidence from cell culture and transgenic mice suggest that X proteins can promote hepatocarcinogenesis. To determine whether WHx-encoded proteins are present during persistent infection and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in woodchucks, we surveyed livers and HCCs from a panel of WHV carrier woodchucks for the presence of WHx by utilizing an immunoprecipitation-Western blot (immunoblot) procedure. We detected a single 15.5-kDa WHx gene product in 100% of the persistently infected livers but not in livers from animals which had recovered from acute infection or in those of uninfected woodchucks. Analysis of HCCs revealed that all of the tumors which contained WHV replication intermediates were also positive for WHx. In contrast, WHx was undetectable in HCCs which did not contain replicative intermediates. Subcellular localization studies detected WHx in the cytoplasm but not in the nuclei of primary woodchuck hepatocytes. Comparative immunoprecipitation experiments revealed that there were 4 X 10(4) to 8 X 10(4) molecules of WHx per primary woodchuck hepatocyte. Four lines of WHx transgenic mice did not develop HCC spontaneously. However, when one line was treated with diethylnitrosamine, the occurrence of precancerous lesions was enhanced compared with that in diethylnitrosamine-treated nontransgenic controls. The apparent absence of WHx in some woodchuck HCCs indicates that WHx may not be required to maintain the tumor phenotype, whereas its presence in all persistently infected livers leaves open the possibility that it plays a role in hepatocarcinogenesis.

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