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J Virol. 2013 Jun;87(11):6415-27. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00393-13. Epub 2013 Mar 27.

Regulation of hepatitis B virus infection by Rab5, Rab7, and the endolysosomal compartment.

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Institute of Biochemistry, Department of Viral Glycoproteins, Bucharest, Romania.


Despite important progress toward deciphering human hepatitis B virus (HBV) entry into host cells, many aspects of the early steps of the life cycle remained completely obscure. Following endocytosis, HBV must travel through the complex network of the endocytic pathway to reach the cell nucleus and initiate replication. In addition to guiding the viral particles to the replication site, the endosomal vesicles may play a crucial role in infection, providing the appropriate environment for virus uncoating and nucleocapsid release. In this work, we investigated the trafficking of HBV particles internalized in permissive cells. Expression of key Rab proteins, involved in specific pathways leading to different intracellular locations, was modulated in HepaRG cells, using a stable and inducible short hairpin RNA (shRNA) expression system. The trafficking properties of the newly developed cells were demonstrated by confocal microscopy and flow cytometry using specific markers. The results showed that HBV infection strongly depends on Rab5 and Rab7 expression, indicating that HBV transport from early to mature endosomes is required for a step in the viral life cycle. This may involve reduction of disulfide bond-linked envelope proteins, as alteration of the redox potential of the endocytic pathway resulted in inhibition of infection. Subcellular fractionation of HBV-infected cells showed that viral particles are further transported to lysosomes. Intriguingly, infection was not dependent on the lysosomal activity, suggesting that trafficking to this compartment is a "dead-end" route. Together, these data add to our understanding of the HBV-host cell interactions controlling the early stages of infection.

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