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J Virol. 2010 Mar;84(6):2675-86. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02196-09. Epub 2010 Jan 6.

The hepatitis B virus X protein modulates hepatocyte proliferation pathways to stimulate viral replication.

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Graduate Program in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Genetics, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102, USA.


Worldwide, there are over 350 million people who are chronically infected with the human hepatitis B virus (HBV); chronic HBV infections are associated with the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The results of various studies suggest that the HBV X protein (HBx) has a role in the development of HBV-associated HCC. HBx can regulate numerous cellular signal transduction pathways, including those that modulate cell proliferation. Many previous studies that analyzed the impact of HBx on cell proliferation pathways were conducted using established or immortalized cell lines, and when HBx was expressed in the absence of HBV replication, and the precise effect of HBx on these pathways has often differed depending on experimental conditions. We have studied the effect of HBx on cell proliferation in cultured primary rat hepatocytes, a biologically relevant system. We demonstrate that HBx, both by itself and in the context of HBV replication, affected the levels and activities of various cell cycle-regulatory proteins to induce normally quiescent hepatocytes to enter the G(1) phase of the cell cycle but not to proceed to S phase. We linked HBx regulation of cell proliferation to cytosolic calcium signaling and HBx stimulation of HBV replication. Cumulatively, our studies suggest that HBx induces normally quiescent hepatocytes to enter the G(1) phase of the cell cycle and that this calcium-dependent HBx activity is required for HBV replication. These studies identify an essential function of HBx during HBV replication and a mechanism that may connect HBV infections to the development of HCC.

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