Identification of a protein important for Hepatitis B replication

In a paper in this month’s PLoS Medicine, researchers from the Genome Institute of Singapore describe the identification of a human cellular protein that has a significant effect on the replication efficiency of Hepatitis B virus. Lisa F. P. Ng and colleagues found the protein–hnRNPK–when they noted an association between one particular sequence in the Hepatitis B virus and high levels of the virus in some infected patients. They discovered that how well the virus replicated is determined by a combination of sequence differences of the virus and how well hnRNPK binds to the viral DNA.

Hepatitis B is a serious global public health problem; more than 350 million people have lifelong infections. Chronically infected people are at high risk of death from cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, which both kill about 1 million people each year. Current antiviral therapies include lamivudine and alpha-interferon which also suppress viral replication by attacking the virus itself, but the identification of the action of this protein offers new therapeutic opportunities by targeting the human proteins that help the virus to replicate.

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