The appearance of the BCP or Pre-C mutations, which reduce or abolish HBeAg production, could increase HBV replication. The remove of the HBeAg often lead to a vigorous immune response, which has an important role in HBV related fulminant outcome. In this study, BCP mutations and Pre-C mutations were separately introduced by site-directed mutagenesis in the same genetic background of an HBV infectious clone, to determine the effect of these mutations per se on replication. BCP and Pre-C mutations increased HBV replication both in vitro and in vivo . HBV could persist in mice injected with wild type HBV infectious clone for about 7 weeks. However, HBV could persist about 5 weeks in mice injected with BCP HBV infectious clone, and 3 weeks only in mice injected with Pre-C HBV infectious clone. HBV related CD8+ CTL response in BCP HBV infectious clone injected mice only slightly increased, but significantly increased in Pre-C HBV infectious clone injected mice compared with that in wild type HBV infectious clone injected mice. The population of Tregs significantly increased in liver but not in spleen of mice injected with Pre-C HBV infectious clone. In summary, we demonstrate that HBeAg plays an important role in suppressing the CTL response, which is related with increasing the frequency of Tregs in mouse. Lack of HBeAg expression leads to the partial loss of immune tolerance.
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