Source Hepatology Unit and Liver Physiopathology Laboratory, University Hospital of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) produces high quantities of subviral surface antigen particles (HBsAg) which circulate in the blood outnumbering virions of about 1\10(3-6) times. In individuals coinfected with the defective hepatitis Delta virus (HDV) the small HDV-RNA-genome and Delta antigen circulate as ribonucleoprotein complexes within HBsAg subviral particles. We addressed the question whether subviral HBsAg particles may carry in the same way cellular microRNAs (miRNAs) which are released into the bloodstream within different subcellular forms such as exosomes and microvescicles. Circulating HBsAg particles were isolated from sera of 11 HBsAg carriers by selective immunoprecipitation with monoclonal anti-HBs-IgG, total RNA was extracted and human miRNAs were screened by TaqMan real-time quantitative PCR Arrays. Thirty-nine human miRNAs were found to be significantly associated with the immunoprecipitated HBsAg, as determined by both comparative DDCT analysis and non-parametric tests (Mann-Whitney, p<0.05) with respect to controls. Moreover immunoprecipitated HBsAg particles contained Ago2 protein that could be revealed in ELISA only after 0.5% NP40. HBsAg associated miRNAs were liver-specific (most frequent = miR-27a, miR-30b, miR-122, miR-126 and miR-145) as well as immune regulatory (most frequent = miR-106b and miR-223). Computationally predicted target genes of HBsAg-associated miRNAs highlighted molecular pathways dealing with host-pathogenThe finding that HBsAg particles carry selective pools of hepatocellular miRNAs opens new avenues of research to disentangle the complex interactions between host and HBV and provides a non invasive tool to study the physiopathology of liver epigenetics.