Primary cultures of non-proliferating hepatocytes isolated by the two-step collagenase perfusion method from woodchuck naturally infected with hepatitis virus (WHV) were used to study WHV propagation . Hepatocytes carrying WHV DNA exhibited a very high level of survival and retained their morphological characteristics for 2 to 3 months. Over this time, they were found to produce virus-specific proteins and release viral particles with DNA polymerase activity into the medium. Using Southern blot analysis and a recombinant hepatitis B virus DNA plasmid probe, intracellular and extracellular viral DNA was consistently detected. Only extrachromosomal forms of WHV DNA were observed and no integration could be demonstrated in the DNA of the cells. The WHV DNA patterns were repeatedly identical with a characteristic smear starting from 3.3 kb associated with other smaller DNA fragments which presumably represented intermediate replicative forms of viral DNA. Furthermore, dot blot hybridization of the total RNA revealed the presence of WHV-specific transcripts in cells after 3 weeks of culture. All these results are compatible with the maintenance of active WHV replication although it was somewhat reduced after the first day of culture. This provides a mammalian model for hepadnavirus replication studies in stable primary hepatocyte cultures.

Keyword(s): hepatocyte , replication and WHV

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