Covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) is the first hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA replicative intermediate formed from the genomic DNA and serves as the template for synthesis of viral mRNA and pregenomic RNA. It also appears to be produced by intracellular recycling of relaxed circular DNA intermediates. Here, we report that none of the forms of HBV surface antigen affect this intracellular recycling of HBV DNA. Elimination of the initiation codons for the large and middle surface proteins did not affect the detection of surface antigen in culture supernatants. In contrast, detection of surface antigen was eliminated by the removal of, or the introduction of two stop codons downstream of, the initiation codon of the small (major) surface antigen. None of the mutations affected the production, in transfected HepG2 cells, of HBV DNA replicative intermediates, including cccDNA.


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