Biochemical and biophysical research communications

Design of a PROTAC that antagonizes and destroys the cancer-forming X-protein of the hepatitis B virus.

PMID 25305486


The X-protein of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) is essential for virus infection and contributes to the development of HBV-induced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a disease which causes more than one million deaths each year. Here we describe the design of a novel PROTAC (proteolysis targeting chimeric molecule) capable of simultaneously inducing the degradation of the X-protein, and antagonizing its function. The PROTAC was constructed by fusing the N-terminal oligomerization and C-terminal instability domains of the X-protein to each other, and rendering them cell-permeable by the inclusion of a polyarginine cell-penetrating peptide (CPP). It was predicted that the oligomerization domain would bind the X-protein, and that the instability domain would cause the X-protein to be targeted for proteasomal degradation. Addition of the PROTAC to HepG2 liver cancer cells, engineered to express full-length and C-terminally truncated forms of the X-protein, resulted in the degradation of both forms of the X-protein. A cell-permeable stand-alone form of the oligomerization domain was taken up by HepG2 cells, and acted as a dominant-negative inhibitor, causing inhibition of X-protein-induced apoptosis. In summary, the PROTAC described here induces the degradation of the X-protein, and antagonizes its function, and warrants investigation in a preclinical study for its ability to prevent or treat HBV infection and/or the development of HCC.