TGF-β and iron differently alter HBV replication in human hepatocytes through TGF-β/BMP signaling and cellular microRNA expression

Sun O. Park, Mukesh Kumar, Sanjeev Gupta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


The nature of host-virus interactions in hepatitis B virus infection is incompletely understood. Since soluble factors, e.g., cytokines and metals, may exacerbate liver injury in chronic hepatitis, we considered that defining the effects of receptor-mediated signaling upon viral replication will be significant. Consequently, we studied effects of iron or TGF-β-induced TGF-β/BMP signaling in the HepG2 2.2.15 cell model of hepatitis B virus replication. We found iron and TGF-β increased hepcidin mRNA expression or TGF-β receptor kinase activity, respectively, which indicated that 2.2.15 cells responded appropriately to these substances. However, iron increased but TGF-β decreased hepatitis B virus mRNA and DNA expression. TGF-β induced expression at the mRNA level of multiple TGF-β/BMP pathway genes. This change was not observed in iron-treated cells. On the other hand, presence of SMAD proteins in iron or TGF-β-treated cells, including of SMAD4, did confirm convergence of TGF-β/BMP signaling pathways under these conditions. Since transcription factors in TGF-β/BMP signaling pathways could not have directly targeted hepatitis B virus itself, we studied whether iron or TGF-β exerted their effects through alternative mechanisms, such as by involvement of antiviral cellular microRNAs. We discovered cellular microRNA expression profiles were significantly different in iron or TGF-β-treated cells compared with untreated control cells. In many cases, exposure to iron or TGF-β changed microRNA expression in opposite directions. Introduction in cells of sequences representing such differentially expressed microRNAs, e.g., hsa-miR-125a-5p and -151-5p, even reproduced effects on virus replication of iron- or TGF-β. We surmised that TGF-β/BMP pathway members, i.e., SMADs, likely governed iron or TGF-β-induced microRNA expression. Iron may have mediated Drosha/DGCR8/heme-mediated processing of microRNAs. In turn, cellular microRNAs regulated replication of hepatitis B virus in iron or TGF-β-treated cells. This knowledge should advance studies of mechanisms in viral-host interactions, hepatic injury, and therapeutic developments for hepatitis B.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere39276
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 18 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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