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Gastroenterology. 2011 Jun;140(7):2074-83, 2083.e1-2. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2011.02.057. Epub 2011 Mar 2.

Hepatitis B virus limits response of human hepatocytes to interferon-α in chimeric mice.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, University Medical Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany.



Interferon (IFN)-α therapy is not effective for most patients with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection for reasons that are not clear. We investigated whether HBV infection reduced IFN-α-mediated induction of antiviral defense mechanisms in human hepatocytes.


Human hepatocytes were injected into severe combined immune-deficient mice (SCID/beige) that expressed transgenic urokinase plasminogen activator under control of the albumin promoter. Some mice were infected with HBV; infected and uninfected mice were given injections of human IFN-α. Changes in viral DNA and expression of human interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) were measured by real-time polymerase chain reaction, using human-specific primers, and by immunohistochemistry.


Median HBV viremia (0.8log) and intrahepatic loads of HBV RNA decreased 3-fold by 8 or 12 hours after each injection of IFN-α, but increased within 24 hours. IFN-α activated expression of human ISGs and nuclear translocation of signal transducers and activators of transcription-1 (STAT1) in human hepatocytes that repopulated the livers of uninfected mice. Although baseline levels of human ISGs were slightly increased in HBV-infected mice, compared with uninfected mice, IFN-α failed to increase expression of the ISGs OAS-1, MxA, MyD88, and TAP-1 (which regulates antigen presentation) in HBV-infected mice. IFN-α did not induce nuclear translocation of STAT1 in HBV-infected human hepatocytes. Administration of the nucleoside analogue entecavir (for 20 days) suppressed HBV replication but did not restore responsiveness to IFN-α.


HBV prevents induction of IFN-α signaling by inhibiting nuclear translocation of STAT1; this can interfere with transcription of ISGs in human hepatocytes. These effects of HBV might contribute to the limited effectiveness of endogenous and therapeutic IFN-α in patients and promote viral persistence.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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