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Media Advisory

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, January 8, 2013

NIH scientists shed light on mystery surrounding hepatitis B virus

Discovery is decades in the making

What

Scientists from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the University of Oxford, U.K., have shed light on a long-standing enigma about the structure of a protein related to the Hepatitis B virus. Their findings were reported in Structure.

World-wide, some 350 million people are chronically infected with Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), of whom 620,000 die each year from HBV-related liver disease. Like any other pathogen, HBV expresses protein antigens that trigger the body’s immune system to defend itself. A relatively small and simple virus, HBV has three major clinical antigens that elicit an immune response: the surface antigen (which is also used safely and effectively to vaccinate individuals against HBV), the core antigen (HBcAg), and the e-antigen (HBeAg).

The findings pertain to the structure of the e-antigen, which plays a role in establishing immune tolerance and HBV infection. Understanding the e-antigen structure provides a framework upon which future studies can build to fully elucidate its role in HBV persistence, and possibly a way to prevent the establishment of chronic liver infections. For more information, visit

Who

Alasdair Steven, Ph.D., chief of the NIAMS Laboratory of Structural Biology Research, and Paul Wingfield, Ph.D., chief of the NIAMS Protein Expression Laboratory.

The mission of the NIAMS, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health, is to support research into the causes, treatment and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases; the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research; and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For more information about the NIAMS, call the information clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (free call) or visit the NIAMS website at http://www.niams.nih.gov.

Note

On January 9, 2013, a revision of this advisory was posted. The new version streamlines the advisory and includes a link to more information about the study.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®

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This page last reviewed on May 21, 2013

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