A cDNA clone prepared from hepatitis delta virus (HDV) RNA extracted from human serum was subcloned in the bacterial expression vector pPL31 to produce a fusion protein consisting of the first 98 amino acids of MS2 polymerase and of 64 amino acids from near the N-terminal region of hepatitis delta antigen (HDAg). The fusion protein was shown to be related to HDAg by a commercial sandwich immunoassay (Abbott) and immunoblotting with human anti-HDAg serum. Antiserum against the fusion protein was raised in rabbits and used to identify HDAg extracted from the serum and liver of an HDV-infected woodchuck and chimpanzee and from the serum of an HDV-infected human, by immunoblotting and immunohistology. A single, major polypeptide of 24K was detected in both serum and liver extracts, with a minor polypeptide of 26K sometimes present. Liver extracts also contained lower polypeptides thought to be degradation products, the major species being 22⋅5K. The same pattern of staining was obtained with human anti-HDAg serum. Absorption experiments with the expressed protein and cross-competition experiments with the rabbit antiserum suggest that a major immunodominant region of HDAg is present near the N-terminal end of the antigen, between positions 1561 and 1368 on the genome. Both the expressed protein and rabbit antiserum were shown to be good diagnostic reagents.


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