The hepatitis B virus (HBV) envelope protein carrying the surface antigen (HBsAg) is assembled with cellular lipids in mammalian cells into empty viral envelopes. In a study to evaluate the capacity of such particles to present foreign peptide sequences in a biologically active form, in-phase insertions were created in the S gene encoding the major envelope protein. One of the sequences inserted was a synthetic DNA fragment encoding a poliovirus neutralization epitope. Mammalian cells expressing the modified gene secreted hybrid particles closely resembling authentic 22-nanometer HBsAg particles. These particles reacted with a poliovirus-specific monoclonal antibody and induced neutralizing antibodies against poliovirus. The results indicate that empty viral envelopes of HBV may provide a means for the presentation of peptide sequences and for their export from mammalian cells.

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