The hepatitis delta virus (HDV) genome consists of circular ssRNA which has extensive intramolecular complementarity and can form a dsRNA rod-like structure. If such RNA species were to exist in an unmasked form in cells, they would be expected to induce interferon (IFN) expression and activate two IFN-inducible dsRNA-dependent enzymes with antiviral activity, namely the dsRNA-dependent protein kinase (PKR) and 2′,5′ oligoadenylate (2′,5′ A) synthetase. Since the virus replicates to high copy number for prolonged periods in infected cells it is apparently able to evade these antiviral mechanisms. The RNA genome may be masked and fail to induce or activate the antiviral response, or the virus may inhibit such a response. Treatment of a hepatoma cell line, Huh7, and a fibrosarcoma cell line, HT1080, stably transfected with a trimeric HDV cDNA construct, with IFN-α or IFN-γ for up to seven days failed to influence the level of expression of genomic or antigenomic HDV RNA, or delta antigen (Ag). This is consistent with either failure of activation or inhibition of the IFN response. However the induction of several IFN-responsive genes, including PKR, 2′,5′A synthetase and class I MHC is normal and cotransfection of a construct expressing delta Ag did not affect expression from an IFN-inducible chloramphenicol acetyltransferase construct. In addition, the activation of PKR is not inhibited in HDV-expressing cells and antiviral assays suggest that the ability of these cells to mount an antiviral response to at least two cytopathic viruses is unaffected. IFN-β is inducible normally by dsRNA in cells transfected with the delta cDNA trimer. We conclude that HDV replication is not inhibited by IFN-α or IFN-γ, even though the responses of cells expressing HDV RNA and antigen to IFN and dsRNA are intact.


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