Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is the leading cause of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) worldwide. The prolyl hydroxylase domain (PHD)-hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) pathway is a key mammalian oxygen sensing pathway and is frequently perturbed by pathological states including infection and inflammation. We discovered a significant upregulation of hypoxia regulated gene transcripts in patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB) in the absence of liver cirrhosis. We used state-of-the-art in vitro and in vivo HBV infection models to evaluate a role for HBV infection and the viral regulatory protein HBx to drive HIF-signalling. HBx had no significant impact on HIF expression or associated transcriptional activity under normoxic or hypoxic conditions. Furthermore, we found no evidence of hypoxia gene expression in HBV de novo infection, HBV infected human liver chimeric mice or transgenic mice with integrated HBV genome. Collectively, our data show clear evidence of hypoxia gene induction in CHB that is not recapitulated in existing models for acute HBV infection, suggesting a role for inflammatory mediators in promoting hypoxia gene expression.
GrantsERC MRC EU Horizon 2020 program through the Hep-CAR consortium Institute for Advanced Study Technische Universitat Munchen via the German Excellence Initiative EU Wellcome grant NIHR Wellcome Trust