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J Virol. 2004 Apr;78(7):3262-70.

Modulation of hepatitis B virus secretion by naturally occurring mutations in the S gene.

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The Liver Research Center and Brown Medical School, Providence, Rhode Island 02903, USA.


Alteration in hepatitis B virus (HBV) secretion efficiency may have pathological consequences. Naturally occurring mutations that regulate virion secretion have not been defined. We recently identified HBV genomes displaying high (4B), substantially reduced (3.4), or negative (4C) virion secretion. In the present study, the underlying mutations were mapped. A T552C point mutation in the 4B genome was responsible for its enhanced virion secretion, whereas a G510A mutation in 3.4 and G660C in 4C impaired virus secretion. The three point mutations generate M133T, G119E, and R169P substitutions in the S domains of viral envelope proteins, respectively, without modifying the coding capacity of the overlapping polymerase gene. The mutated residues are predicted to lie in the luminal side of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) or to be embedded in the ER membrane and thus are not involved in contact with core particles during envelopment. Of the two mutations inhibitory of virion secretion, G510A greatly reduced small envelope protein (hepatitis B surface antigen [HBsAg]) levels both inside cells and in culture medium, whereas G660C specifically abolished HBsAg secretion. Surprisingly, a T484G mutation in the 4B genome, generating an I110M substitution in the S domain, could also reduce HBsAg secretion and block virion secretion. However, its inhibitory effect was suppressed in the 4B genome by the T552C mutation, the enhancer of virion secretion. T552C can also override the inhibitory G510A mutation, but not the G660C mutation. These findings suggest a hierarchy in the regulation of virion secretion and a close link between defective virion secretion and impaired HBsAg formation or secretion.

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