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Virology. 1997 Aug 18;235(1):104-8.

Naturally occurring hepatitis B virus genomes bearing the hallmarks of retroviral G-->A hypermutation.

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Heinrich-Pette-Institut fur Experimentelle Virologie und Immunologie, Hamburg, Germany.


Two hypermutated genomes of hepatitis B virus (HBV) were cloned from sera of chronic virus carriers. Twelve percent and 26% of guanosine residues were replaced by adenosine, with the transitions being erratically distributed along the genome. G-->A substitutions showed a strong dinucleotide preference, decreasing in the order GpA > GpG > > GpC > or = GpT. Such traits are typical of retroviral G-->A hypermutation which results from cDNA synthesis coinciding with fluctuations in the intracellular [dTTP]/[dCTP] ratio. The observations offer an explanation for the high prevalence of HBV variants bearing a tryptophan 28-->stop codon in the pre-core region of carriers with chronic active or fulminant hepatitis. The HBV hypermutants indicate that a small proportion of hepatocytes have distorted dNTP pools, which might have implications for the fidelity of hepatocyte DNA replication or repair.

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