There is no cure for the more than 270 million people chronically infected with HBV. Nucleos(t)ide analogs (NUCs), the mainstay of anti-HBV treatment, block HBV reverse transcription. NUCs do not eliminate the intranuclear covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA), from which viral RNAs, including pregenomic RNA (pgRNA), are transcribed. A key gap in designing a cure is understanding how NUCs affect HBV replication and transcription because serum markers yield an incomplete view of intrahepatic HBV. We applied single-cell laser capture microdissection and droplet digital PCR to paired liver biopsies collected from 5 HBV/HIV-coinfected persons who took NUCs over 2-4 years. From biopsy 1 to 2, proportions of HBV-infected hepatocytes declined with adherence to NUC treatment (P < 0.05); we extrapolated that eradication of HBV will take over 10 decades with NUCs in these participants. In individual hepatocytes, pgRNA levels diminished 28- to 73-fold during NUC treatment, corresponding with decreased tissue HBV core antigen staining (P < 0.01). In 4 out of 5 participants, hepatocytes with cccDNA but undetectable pgRNA (transcriptionally inactive) were present, and these were enriched in 3 participants during NUC treatment. Further work to unravel mechanisms of cccDNA transcriptional inactivation may lead to therapies that can achieve this in all hepatocytes, resulting in a functional cure.

References

PubMed