Liver international : official journal of the International Association for the Study of the Liver

Visualizing hepatitis B virus with biarsenical labelling in living cells.

PMID 24373334


Study on viruses has greatly benefited from visualization of viruses tagged with green fluorescent protein (GFP) in living cells. But GFP tag, as a large inserted fragment, is not suitable for labelling Hepatitis B virus (HBV) that is a compact virion with limited internal space. To visualize HBV in living cells, we constructed several recombinant HBV fluorescently labelled with biarsenical dye to track the behaviour of HBV in the cytoplasm of infected cells. By mutagenesis, a smaller size tetracysteine (TC) tag (C-C-P-G-C-C) that could be bound with a biarsenical fluorescent dye was genetically inserted at different cell epitopes of HBV core protein expressed in transfected cells. Confocal microscopy and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) observations showed that TC-tagged core proteins bound with biarsenical dye could specifically fluoresce in cells and be incorporated into nucleocapsid to form fluorescent virions. The recombinant fluorescent HBV virions retained their infectivity as wild-type ones. Moreover, tracking of fluorescent HBV particles in living cells reveals microtubule-dependent motility of the intracellular particles. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time to generate fluorescent HBV virions with biarsenical labelling and to visualize their trafficking in living cells. The fluorescent HBV may become one highly valuable tool for further studying detailed dynamic processes of HBV life cycle and interaction of HBV with host in live-imaging approach.