Research Article

Specific and Nonhepatotoxic Degradation of Nuclear Hepatitis B Virus cccDNA

Science  14 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6176, pp. 1221-1228
DOI: 10.1126/science.1243462

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Clearance of Chronic Virus

The family of mRNA-editing enzymes, APOBEC, restricts hepatitis B virus (HBV) replication. Lucifora et al. (p. 1221, published online 20 February; see the Perspective by Shlomai and Rice) provide evidence that specific APOBECs mediate the anti-HBV effects of host cytokines, which in turn apparently induce nuclear deaminase activity without damaging host cells. Thus, there may be potential in these findings for developing a therapeutic route to curing chronic HBV infection.


Current antiviral agents can control but not eliminate hepatitis B virus (HBV), because HBV establishes a stable nuclear covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA). Interferon-α treatment can clear HBV but is limited by systemic side effects. We describe how interferon-α can induce specific degradation of the nuclear viral DNA without hepatotoxicity and propose lymphotoxin-β receptor activation as a therapeutic alternative. Interferon-α and lymphotoxin-β receptor activation up-regulated APOBEC3A and APOBEC3B cytidine deaminases, respectively, in HBV-infected cells, primary hepatocytes, and human liver needle biopsies. HBV core protein mediated the interaction with nuclear cccDNA, resulting in cytidine deamination, apurinic/apyrimidinic site formation, and finally cccDNA degradation that prevented HBV reactivation. Genomic DNA was not affected. Thus, inducing nuclear deaminases—for example, by lymphotoxin-β receptor activation—allows the development of new therapeutics that, in combination with existing antivirals, may cure hepatitis B.

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