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J Virol. 1997 Jul;71(7):5399-407.

Transcription of hepatitis B virus in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from persistently infected patients.

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Department of Pediatrics, Justus-Liebig-University, Giessen, Germany.


Hepatitis B virus (HBV) has been reported to exist in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), but it is not clear whether it replicates there. A precondition for replication should be the formation of covalently closed viral DNA and transcription of all essential viral mRNAs. The mRNAs of HBV form a nested box with common 3' ends. In order to detect even low levels of potential replication, we developed a quantitative reverse transcription-PCR method for detection of a smaller HBV mRNA species in the presence of the larger ones. All three highly viremic patients tested so far had mRNAs for the large and the small surface proteins and the X protein of the virus within PBMC but not in the virus from their sera. Furthermore, we detected by PCR covalently closed viral DNA in their PBMC. These data suggest that HBV may be not only taken up but also replicated by mononuclear blood cells and that these cells may be an extrahepatic site of viral persistence. X mRNA was detected in the largest amount. Possibly, X protein interferes with functions of the mononuclear cells during the immune response against the virus.

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