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J Virol. 1991 Jul;65(7):3566-74.

Emergence of and takeover by hepatitis B virus (HBV) with rearrangements in the pre-S/S and pre-C/C genes during chronic HBV infection.

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Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale U.75, CHU Necker, Paris, France.


We have shown, by analyzing serial serum samples from a chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) carrier, the emergence of HBV DNA molecules with nucleotide rearrangements in the pre-S/S and pre-C/C genes. Serum samples were obtained at four different times (1983, 1985, 1988, and 1989) from an HBsAg- and HBeAg-positive carrier with chronic hepatitis. The polymerase chain reaction was used to amplify the pre-S/S and pre-C/C genes. The amplified products were cloned, and 8 to 10 independent clones were sequenced. In 1983 and 1985 only one type of HBV DNA molecule was observed. Nucleotide divergence relative to the adw2 subtype was 4.7, 7.2, and 1.6%, for the pre-S1, pre-S2, and S regions, respectively, and 2.2 and 3.9% for the pre-C and C regions, respectively. In 1988 and 1989, HBV DNA forms with marked rearrangements of both the pre-S/S and pre-C/C regions were evidenced. In the pre-S/S region, they comprised two distinct HBV DNA molecules. The first showed nucleotide divergence of 20.4, 14.8, and 3.3% for the pre-S1, pre-S2, and S regions when compared with the adw2 sequence. In addition, nucleotide deletions in the pre-S1 region led to the appearance of a stop codon. The second was created by recombination between the original and mutated HBV DNA. In the pre-C/C region, the mutated viral DNA showed 11.7% divergence when compared with the adw2 sequence. A point mutation led to the creation of a stop codon in the pre-C region, together with an insertion of 36 nucleic acids in the core gene. Most of this DNA insertion was identical to that reported in an independent HBV isolate but showed no significant homology with known sequences. Semiquantitative estimation of the proportion of wild-type and mutated HBV DNA molecules showed a marked increase in the mutated forms during the period of follow-up. Sucrose gradient analysis indicated that the defective HBV DNA molecules were present in circulating virions. Western immunoblot analysis showed the appearance of modified translation products. Our findings thus indicate the emergence of and gradual takeover by mutated HBV DNA forms during the HBV chronic carrier state. The rearrangements we observed in the pre-S/S and pre-C/C genes might lead to changes in the immunogenicity of the viral particles and thus affect the clearance of the virus by the immune system.

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