Evidence that hepatitis B virus replication in mouse cells is limited by the lack of a host cell dependency factor
Authors: Lempp FA, Mutz P, Lipps C, Wirth D, Bartenschlager R, Urban S
CellNetworks People: Bartenschlager Ralf, Urban Stephan
Journal: J Hepatol. 2016 Mar;64(3):556-64. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2015.10.030

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a major human pathogen restricted to hepatocytes. Expression of the specific receptor human sodium taurocholate cotransporting polypeptide (hNTCP) in mouse hepatocytes renders them susceptible to hepatitis delta virus (HDV), a satellite of HBV; however, HBV remains restricted at an early stage of replication. This study aims at clarifying whether this restriction is caused by the lack of a dependency factor or the activity of a restriction factor.
Six hNTCP-expressing mouse and human cell lines were generated and functionally characterized. By fusion with replication-supporting but non-infectable HepG2 cells, we analysed the ability of these heterokaryonic cells to fully support HBV replication by HBcAg expression and HBsAg/HBeAg secretion.
While hNTCP expression in three mouse cell lines and the non-hepatic human HeLa cells conferred susceptibility to HDV, HBV replication was still restricted. Upon fusion of refractive cells to HepG2 cells, all heterokaryonic cells supported receptor-mediated infection with HBV. hNTCP was provided by the mouse cells and replication competence came from the HepG2 cell line. Transfection of a covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA)-like molecule into non-susceptible cells promoted gene expression, indicating that the limiting step is upstream of cccDNA formation.
In addition to the expression of hNTCP, establishment of HBV infection in mouse and non-hepatocytic human cell lines requires supplementation with a dependency factor and is not limited by a restriction factor. This result opens new avenues for the development of a fully permissive immunocompetent HBV mouse model.