Hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) occurs in the serum of individuals infected with hepatitis B virus both free and in association with IgG. Utilizing a succession of steps involving salt precipitation, affinity chromatography, ion-exchange chromatography and isoelectrofocusing, we isolated free and IgG-bound forms of HBeAg from the sera of infected individuals with an overall gain in specific activity of 3000-fold and 540-fold, respectively. Polypeptide profiles of purified HBeAg preparations were studied by SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis in the presence of 2-mercaptoethanol. Both free and IgG-bound preparations revealed polypeptides with mol. wt. of 15500 (P15.5) and 16500 (P16.5), and HBeAg activity was detected corresponding to their positions. The HBeAg polypeptides (P15.5/16.5) derived from sera were physicochemically different from the two polypeptides with HBeAg activity (P19 and P45) liberated from Dane particle cores by the conventional method involving incubation with Nonidet P40 and 2-mercaptoethanol. However, when core particles were prepared in the presence of a proteolytic enzyme, in addition to Nonidet P40 and 2-mercaptoethanol, they gave rise to HBeAg polypeptides with mol. wt. of 31000 (P31) and 15500. Furthermore, P31 split into P15.5 when heated at 100 °C for 2 min. On the basis of these results, P15.5 may be assumed to be the essential polypeptide bearing HBeAg activity in the serum and also in Dane particles.


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