Haitao Guo, PhD
Haitao Guo, PhD

Haitao Guo, PhD., Professor, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, and colleagues published an article in Antiviral Research entitled  “Screening of an epigenetic compound library identifies BRD4 as a potential antiviral target for hepatitis B virus covalently closed circular DNA transcription.” 

Yu X, Long Q, Shen S, Liu Z, Chandran J, Zhang J, Ding H, Zhang H, Cai D, Kim ES, Huang Y, Guo H.  Antiviral Res. 2023 Feb 1:105552. doi: 10.1016/j.antiviral.2023.105552. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 36737008.


HBV cccDNA is the persistent form of viral genome, which exists in host cell nucleus as an episomal minichromosome decorated with histone and non-histone proteins. cccDNA is the authentic viral transcript template and resistant to current antivirals. Growing evidence shows that the transcriptional activity of cccDNA minichromosome undergoes epigenetic regulations, suggesting a new perspective for anti-cccDNA drug development through targeting histone modifications. In this study, we screened an epigenetic compound library in the cccDNA reporter cell line HepBHAe82, which produces the HA-tagged HBeAg in a cccDNA-dependent manner. Among the obtained hits, a bromodomain-containing protein 4 (BRD4) inhibitor MS436 exhibited marked inhibition of cccDNA transcription in both HBV stable cell line HepAD38 and HepG2-NTCP or primary human hepatocyte infection system under noncytotoxic concentrations. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assay demonstrated that MS436 dramatically reduced the enrichment of H3K27ac, an activating histone modification pattern, on cccDNA minichromosome. RNAseq differential analysis showed that MS436 does not drastically change host transcriptome or induce any known anti-HBV factors/pathways, indicating a direct antiviral effect of MS436 on cccDNA minichromosome. Interestingly, the MS436-mediated inhibition of cccDNA transcription is accompanied by cccDNA destabilization in HBV infection and a recombinant cccDNA system, indicating that BRD4 activity may also play a role in cccDNA maintenance. Furthermore, depletion of BRD4 by siRNA knockdown or PROTAC degrader resulted in cccDNA inhibition in HBV-infected HepG2-NTCP cells, further validating BRD4 as an antiviral target. Taken together, our study has demonstrated the practicality of HepBHAe82-based anti-HBV drug screening system and provided a proof-of-concept for targeting HBV cccDNA with epigenetic compounds.

Keywords: HBV, cccDNA, Epigenetics, BRD4