The gene encoding the hepatitis delta virus structural antigen (HDAg) was linked to a neomycin resistance gene in a retrovirus expression vector, and human HepG2 cells were transfected with the recombinant plasmid. A stable cell line was cloned that expressed HDAg in the nuclei of 100% of cells, in a pattern indicating a close relationship with cell nucleoli. Analysis of partially purified recombinant HDAg by HPLC showed an in the range of 7 × 10 to 2 × 10, which appeared to contain conformation-dependent epitopes, whereas the density of the antigen was 1.19 g/ml by equilibrium centrifugation in caesium chloride, and in rate zonal centrifugation it sedimented with a value of 50S, close to that of particulate hepatitis B virus surface antigen. Immunoblotting demonstrated a single polypeptide with an of 24K which corresponded to the smaller of the two HDAg-specific polypeptides present in infected sera. The recombinant HDAg polypeptide was shown to be a RNA-binding protein with specificity for both genomic and anti-genomic species of hepatitis delta virus RNA.


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