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BACKGROUND & AIMS: Hypoxia inducible factors (HIFs) are a hallmark of inflammation and are key regulators of hepatic immunity and metabolism, yet their role in HBV replication is poorly defined. HBV replicates in hepatocytes within the liver, a naturally hypoxic organ, however most studies of viral replication are performed under conditions of atmospheric oxygen, where HIFs are inactive. We therefore investigated the role of HIFs in regulating HBV replication. METHODS: Using cell culture, animal models, human tissue and pharmacological agents inhibiting the HIF-prolyl hydroxylases, we investigated the impact of hypoxia on the HBV life cycle. RESULTS: Culturing liver cell-based model systems under low oxygen uncovered a new role for HIFs in binding HBV DNA and activating the basal core promoter, leading to increased pre-genomic RNA and de novo HBV particle secretion. The presence of hypoxia responsive elements among all primate members of the hepadnaviridae highlights an evolutionary conserved role for HIFs in regulating this virus family. CONCLUSIONS: Identifying a role for this conserved oxygen sensor in regulating HBV transcription suggests that this virus has evolved to exploit the HIF signaling pathway to persist in the low oxygen environment of the liver. Our studies show the importance of considering oxygen availability when studying HBV-host interactions and provide innovative routes to better understand and target chronic HBV infection. LAY SUMMARY: Viral replication in host cells is defined by the cellular microenvironment and one key factor is local oxygen tension. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) replicates in the liver, a naturally hypoxic organ. Hypoxia inducible factors (HIFs) are the major sensors of low oxygen; herein, we identify a new role for these factors in regulating HBV replication, revealing new therapeutic targets.

Original publication




Journal article


J Hepatol

Publication Date





64 - 73


HIF, Hepatitis B, hypoxia, transcription, Animals, Cellular Microenvironment, Hepadnaviridae, Hepatitis B virus, Hepatitis B, Chronic, Host Microbial Interactions, Humans, Hypoxia, Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, Hypoxia-Inducible Factor-Proline Dioxygenases, Kruppel-Like Factor 6, Liver, Oxygen, Signal Transduction, Transcriptional Activation, Virus Replication