The C-terminal region of hepatitis B virus (HBV) e antigen (HBeAg), amino acids (aa) 121 to 147, was characterized for reactivity with 15 monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) and sera from 16 chronic carriers on the HB surface antigen with anti-HBe. Recombinant proteins exposing fragments of the HBc/e polypeptide (aa 29 to 176, 60 to 176, 101 to 176, 121 to 176, 134 to 176, 138 to 176, 139 to 176, 140 to 176, 146 to 176 and 156 to 176) fused to the N terminus of the coat protein of RNA phage fr were constructed, as were two sets of synthetic peptides covering residues 121 to 136 and 130 to 147, where each residue was sequentially substituted by alanine. The MAbs were found to recognize overlapping epitopes in the fusion proteins within residues 121 to 176; however, none of the MAbs reacted with proteins covering residues 146 to 176 and 156 to 176. Using the synthetic peptides it was found that the MAbs recognized epitopes at residues 128-TPPAYR-133, 133-RPPNAP-138, 135-PNAPIL-140, 138-PILSTLPE-145 and 143-LPET-146. Only MAbs recognizing the epitope 128-TPPAYR-133 were found to react with both native HBeAg and denatured HBcAG, whereas MAbs recognizing epitopes located closer to the C terminus of HBeAg were reactive only with denatured HBcAg. The recognition sites for the human IgG1 overlapped with the epitopes of the MAbs recognizing native HBeAg. Our interpretation of these findings is that the region 124 to 133 is on the surface of native HBeAg and denatured HBcAg, and that the adjacent region 135 to 147 is not accessible on the surface of native HBeAg, but becomes exposed on denatured HBcAg.


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