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J Virol. 1998 Jul;72(7):5449-56.

Transcription of hepatitis delta antigen mRNA continues throughout hepatitis delta virus (HDV) replication: a new model of HDV RNA transcription and replication.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, University of Southern California School of Medicine, Los Angeles, California 90033-1054, USA.


Hepatitis delta virus (HDV) replicates by RNA-dependent RNA synthesis according to a double rolling circle model. Also synthesized during replication is a 0.8-kb, polyadenylated mRNA encoding the hepatitis delta antigen (HDAg). It has been proposed that this mRNA species represents the initial product of HDV RNA replication; subsequent production of genomic-length HDV RNA relies on suppression of the HDV RNA polyadenylation signal by HDAg. However, this model was based on studies which required the use of an HDV cDNA copy to initiate HDV RNA replication in cell culture, thus introducing an artificial requirement for DNA-dependent RNA synthesis. We have now used an HDV cDNA-free RNA transfection system and a method that we developed to detect specifically the mRNA species transcribed from the HDV RNA template. We established that this polyadenylated mRNA is 0.8 kb in length and its 5' end begins at nucleotide 1631. Surprisingly, kinetic studies showed that this mRNA continued to be synthesized even late in the viral replication cycle and that the mRNA and the genomic-length RNA increased in parallel, even in the presence of HDAg. Thus, a switch from production of the HDAg mRNA to the full-length HDV RNA does not occur in this system, and suppression of the polyadenylation site by HDAg may not significantly regulate the synthesis of the HDAg mRNA, as previously proposed. These findings reveal novel insights into the mechanism of HDV RNA replication. A new model of HDV RNA replication and transcription is proposed.

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