Hepatitis B Virus X Protein Induces Cellular Senescence and Autophagy
Dawson, Paul WH
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Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a significant global threat to human health due to its ability to cause chronic infections that can lead to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). While the process by which HBV increases the risk of HCC is unclear, evidence suggests that the hepatitis B X protein (HBx) may be a contributing factor. Cellular senescence is an important barrier to tumorigenesis, blocking the proliferation of cells that harbor excessive DNA damage or contain activated oncogenes. Autophagy is a non-proteasomal degradative pathway used by cells to recycle cytoplasmic contents under periods of nutrient starvation. This pathway is induced in response to a wide range of cellular stress factors, and has also been characterized as an effector mechanism for the establishment of cellular senescence. In this study, retroviral transduction of HepG2 cells with HBx resulted in the induction of cellular senescence and autophagy. The mechanism by which HBx can induce senescence is unclear. However, an increase in the accumulation of DNA damage was observed. HBx did not modulate the levels of the anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, or Mcl-1, which can inhibit autophagy through interactions with the autophagy regulator Beclin 1. As well, the activity and phosphorylation status of JNK/SAPK, an inducer of autophagy via Bcl-2 phosphorylation, was unchanged. These results suggest that senescence may act as a barrier to HBx-induced oncogenesis, and may offer some explanation as to why HBx does not function as a more potent oncogene. Also, we propose that HBx modulates autophagy through a mechanism other than Bcl-2 phosphorylation or expression over the time course of this study.