Proteolytic self-cleavage of hepatitis B virus core protein may generate serum e antigen

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Science  08 May 1987:
Vol. 236, Issue 4802, pp. 722-725
DOI: 10.1126/science.3554507


A model is proposed to explain the presence of the e antigen (HBeAg) of hepatitis B virus (HBV) in the serum of individuals infected with this virus. The e antigen, which has only recently been characterized, is a fragment of the virus core, or nucleocapsid, protein. Serum HBeAg is a valuable clinical marker for active HBV infection because its appearance correlates both with virus replication in the liver and with the presence of circulating virions. In this study a protease-like amino acid sequence was identified at the amino terminus of the core protein sequence. Experimental evidence indicates that HBeAg may be produced by proteolytic self-cleavage of the core protein.